Dog’s Eye View: Stubborn dogs
February 16, 2018
I keep this little personal quote posted at my desk, "Stubborn? You mean smarter than your training skills?"
This statement deserves a little scrutiny. Humans, with our complex brains, motor skills and verbal language, tend to subject animals to human morals and behaviors. If we look at life through the dog's eyes, survival comes first, then procreation and advancement of the species.
Dog is a pretty simple thinker. He won't steal your car but will make lunch if the refrigerator door is open. He'll be glad to take himself on a walk about if someone forgot to close the gate, but he won't head for the veterinary clinic on purpose.
Looking at a common statement from many students and clients I hear, "He knows what I'm saying. He just won't do it. He's being stubborn."
A good example is calling your dog away from a play date at the dog park. This is one of the most challenging times. Humans think once the dog knows how to come in the house, he should be able to respond to the command anywhere. Silly humans. We are inclined to forget how long it took us to become proficient in our own basic life skills.
How many times did your parents tell you to brush your teeth, make your bed, do your homework, come home on time? And yet we expect the dog to respond after one good training session?
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"But he knows it."
He knows it in the living room, without company, when you are totally focused on him, and you have his attention. You can't expect the same behavioral response in the dog park without specific focused training.
So, how do you get it?
You earn it by putting a lot of time into teaching it up close in many types of environments. Start in the backyard, and when he gets reliable, go to the dog park on a day when no dogs are there yet. Start on leash, let him go to the end of the leash, say his name and as soon as he turns back to look, present him with a good chunk of meat, also known as a high value reward. Pour on the praise while you give him the meat — setting the expectation that responding to your command is worth it.
Then say, go play and turn him loose. As he ranges out 5 to 10 yards, say his name again. As soon as he looks at you, swing your hand out to show him a chunk of meat. He'll come running up as you praise him while you offer the meat.
You can do this on a trail hike, too, and I'll bet if you keep it up the effort you will teach your dog to check in and stay close.
Now, so you will not get mugged by every dog at the dog park, work toward calling your dog to you and lead him back to the car to get the treat. If you work at this, you will, once again, create an expectation for your dog.
He will know that something great awaits when you head back to the car together. It works if you put the time in, train in many different environments and make it worth his while.
That's how you build reliability.
Smarter than your training skills? There are numerous books, DVDs and certified professional dog trainers to help you become the trainer your dog needs.
Positive reinforcement strengthens behavior and the human canine bond. I know this works because this is how I train my own dogs. I see our success day after day.
Look around and you will see humans and their dogs in sync, competent and compliant. Neither the dog nor the trainer was born that way. You get what you pay for, so to speak. Training and communication is a full-time responsibility.
As a believer in reward/reinforcement teaching I have hundreds of books, DVDs and many years of schooling in teaching and training. There are still days when I must up my game and stretch my training skills to solve a behavioral puzzle a dog might present. The satisfaction of success is a great self-reward!
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 30 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants as well as certified nose work instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.