What is there besides socialization, housetraining, exercise, good food, and veterinary care? The Dog Trainer has 4 other important ways to look out for your dog’s well-being.
Tip #3: If it Seems Mean, it Probably Is
Let me be blunt here. Training used to amount to hurting an animal until he or she was too frightened to do anything but what the human said to do. The historical reasons probably combine many factors – a view of nature as needing to be subjugated to human will, ignorance of animal suffering, or indifference to it. I’m sure there are others. There was one famous old-school trainer whose basic guide spoke of dogs being “resentful” of methods that included hanging them by their choke chains. Hell yes, I’m sure dogs were plenty resentful.
Nowadays many trainers, though amazingly still not all, avoid violence and coercion and instead look for ways to draw out behavior we like and reward it with food, play, attention, and whatever other good stuff the individual dog is happy to work for. But some of the old ways linger, ugly ghosts haunting our relationships with our dogs.
I still get email from people who try to housetrain by rubbing their puppy’s nose in urine and feces, for instance. Choke chains, prong collars, and shock collars are sold everywhere, normalizing the idea that the best way to teach dogs things is to yank on their necks or otherwise cause them distress. To top things off, those who routinely use these products often deny that there’s anything unpleasant going on – though how else could they possibly work, unless the dog urgently wants to avoid them?
Do your dog a favor. No matter how famous someone is, no matter how long they’ve been training dogs, no matter how plausible they sound, take a breath before you take their advice. Consider whether the device or technique they offer sounds as if it would hurt or frighten your dog. Consider whether the method will encourage your dog to trust you and feel safe in the world. Remember that behavior problems feed on distress, mistrust, and the sense of being in danger. Be your dog’s friend, guide, and teacher – not her bully.
Tip #4: Show Your Dog a Good Time
Dogs don’t read books or watch BBC's Sherlock. They don’t subscribe to podcasts. They don’t even watch “Simon’s Cat” videos on YouTube, the little fools. The things most dogs like are pretty simple: human company, interesting smells, walks and, even better, off-leash hikes, food-dispensing toys that they can push with their noses, or chew, or toss. They also dig chest scratches, butt scratches, behind-the-ear scratches and human laughter (my fellow Pit Bull guardians will be well aware of that one.) Most dogs enjoy reward-based training – think of it as their sudoku. Many dogs love Fetch or Tug or Keep-away. Most puppies, and some adult dogs, enjoy playing with friendly dogs. Some dogs enjoy dog sports such as dock diving and agility.
There’s a wonderful old squib from The Onion of nearly a decade ago, headlined “Dog Experiences Best Day of His Life for 400th Consecutive Day.” If I could write the biography of every Zippy and Dogalini, that’s what I’d want to be able to call it.
That’s all for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and listening to these episodes as much as I have creating them.
Please check back every week for more tips. And check out my book, The Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy, Well-Behaved Pet for easy guidance on raising a fun, playful dog who comes when called, but doesn't chew up your favorite shoes.