Updated: Jan 13
The dog training fantasies I so often entertained in the past didn't really include, ya know, people. Needless to say, people are a HUGE part of the equation! Truthfully, that's the hard part. It's not hard because I don't like people. Ironically, doing this job showed me just how much I enjoy working with people. I love seeing my clients. Working with them to further enrich their lives with their dogs is my greatest joy. That is not to say that it's always a cake walk.
Give me a dog and I can train that dog. Give me a human, and well, it's kind of a crapshoot. For every behavior assessment I write, I include a section on compliance. It goes something like this:
Owner compliance is always a major factor in case outcome. Please bear this in mind throughout the training process. The more we stick to the plan, the faster and more smoothly things will progress. In order to be successful, everyone in the household must be on board with and committed to training.
This is not as easy as it seems. Sometimes only one spouse is on board with training and the other is not - this can be due to disagreements regarding training philosophy or just plain old disinterest. Sometimes the owners have caretakers that aren't interested in making dog care and training part of their job description.
No matter the reason, the reality is this - it is damn hard to modify behavior in adult humans. Trust me, I'm not sitting in judgement here. The sheer amount of times I've vowed to eat healthier and work out more or that I would do a better job keeping my apartment clean is almost laughable. To err is human, after all.
The reason I'm a trainer is that the one category I manage to stay on top of in my life is dogs. I relish the challenge and process of training. I enjoy learning about and with my dog. It's all great fun for me. Even then, I am by no means perfect. My dog, like many out there, could certainly benefit from more walks, training and grooming.
Recently I was listening to the podcast "Overheard" by National Geographic. This particular episode, "The Unstoppable Wily Coyote," discussed tactics presented to the public by park rangers to reduce coyote attacks. In the interview Mary Ann Bonnell, a natural resources specialist working in Denver, tells us,
I have these four simple truths that I tell people when I'm talking and when I'm doing education programs about coyotes.
According to Mary Ann, "the final truth is hard for some people to accept."
She goes on to say,
The fourth one - and I think this is super important - is adult humans are difficult to train .... And so one of the things that is a struggle with helping people deal with coyote conflict is some of the things have to do with changing behavior - supervising your dog in the backyard, walking your dog on a leash. Maybe you've had a bird feeder for 20 years, but maybe now it's time to take the bird feeder down. Those are all things that involve humans changing their behavior - and adult humans changing their behavior. And if you've ever tried to get an adult human to change their behavior, it's a tough ask.
Boy is she right. For example, one important aspect of dog training is management. This means setting up the dog's environment to prevent opportunities to rehearse undesired behavior. Sometimes this means setting up a gate around the front door to prevent door dashing, or not leaving food out on the counter. Surprisingly, these things can be remarkably difficult for some people.
We often operate under the notion that it is the dog (and only the dog) that needs to change. We carry around the idea that dogs must be trained to live in our environment, as is, despite so often setting them up for failure, albeit unconsciously.
Like so many things in life, be it losing weight, getting an A in chemistry or changing our dog's behavior, having a sense of personal responsibility can really advance the ball. So let's help our dogs out by being a helpful participant in their behavior, instead of just a spectator.
If you're interested in listening to the podcast described above, click here.