I am a third generation dog person so it’s safe to say I’ve been around them all of my 30 years. I don’t have a certificate or diploma from any schools or universities, but training dogs is my life. A good ‘word picture’ for how I communicate with canines came from an acquaintance of my sister’s. She studied language in college and told Kelli that when you learn a language before the age of 14, you are fluent in it. Saying I’ve been immersed since birth might qualify for an understatement, but it’s the reason I am fluent in canine communication.
One of the biggest things that most people misconceive about training is that it’s all about behavior. While behavior in a dog is what has the most effect on our lives (i.e. jumping, barking, biting, etc.), the mentality of a dog is where the behavior is changed. I get so many people coming to me describing behaviors that their dogs exhibit that they would like changed and most of the time they downplay it, thinking it’s minor.
First example… “Oh, Fluffy is such a good dog. We really don’t have any problems, it’s just that she barks when she’s in her crate and we can’t get her to stop no matter what we do!” Now, in their defense, they aren’t in the business so it’s not their job to see all the problems, but let me tell you what I find when I go to evaluate Fluffy and teach her owners how to get her to be quiet in her crate. I find a dog that has been allowed to be in charge, a dog who has learned to manipulate her owners into rewarding her behavior. Most people would say that’s crazy, since they’ve spent hours beating their head against the wall begging Fluffy to, “just stop, please!”….but guess what. It doesn’t matter what the human thinks, it’s what the dog perceives. And if barking in her crate doesn’t present enough of a negative and Fluffy gets even an inkling of positive, she’s going to outwit and outlast EVERY time. Why wouldn’t she? She has all day to think of ways to get what she wants while you still have to work, pay bills, clean, fix supper, and even take care of Fluffy. By the way, little dogs are notorious for getting away with things because ‘everything they do is cute…’ Have you seen the hundreds of America’s Funniest Home Videos where the little dog is growling, barking, and baring their teeth while everyone laughs in the background?
Another example….A dog who was bought for companionship, but also protection. Fido is a Rottweiler and his family got him because they love dogs, but also are interested in having him to ward away any evil-doers. It sounds like a good idea at first, but Fido is a big dog that scares people and he has some aggression issues so his family forgoes the necessity of socialization. I’m called in and told he’s so sweet and amazing with the kids, but has bit the mailman, twice. Most people can’t for the life of them figure out what to do. They wanted him for protection, so they “can’t take that out of him” but the mailman is threatening to sue if they don’t do something.
What do these two dogs have in common even though it seems like not much? The mentality of the dog…. Fluffy has been allowed to get away with things (even rewarded for them in her mind) and when I come in to set things straight, she gets angry. I literally had a dog CLIMB the lead to get at me when I told them they weren’t in charge. All because the owner didn’t see that the crate barking wasn’t the only problem. Fluffy had LOTS of problems, but her owners were paying more attention to her actual behavior than her mentality. Just because a behavior doesn’t peg out the inconvenience radar doesn’t mean that it isn’t detrimental to the entire owner/dog relationship. Fido has been allowed to become a bully. He loves his family because he’s grown up around them, but he’s not too keen on anyone else entering the picture (think typical step-parent/step-child relationship where one parent is being ‘replaced’) and he’s been allowed to think that he’s in charge. He’s not the head of the household and he can’t possibly be, he’ll never be able to pay bills, fix the screen door when it’s broken, or even call the doctor to make a yearly checkup appointment. He also missed out on being properly socialized to learn that if his owner deems someone friendly, he must follow suit and treat said visitor with respect and a friendly attitude. Protection can’t be taken out of a dog by teaching them not to be aggressive towards good people. It would be like thinking your spouse wouldn’t protect you in a dangerous situation because they aren’t jealous of everyone who speaks to you.
So what do we take out of these situations? Pay attention to your dog’s brain as much as you do his behavior. I spend more time ‘brain training’ than I do physical training on a lot of dogs because I want that relationship. I want a dog who takes cues from me on how to act and react. I don’t want a dog who has such little faith in me that they think they can or must be in charge. Because the damage it does to their psyche when they are forced into a job they can’t do or are uncomfortable doing is more than you’ll ever realize.