Have you trained that?

11249307_10152931504747303_1194799322877169224_nWe have all experienced the frustration of being at the end of the leash while our dog bounces around and seems to be ignoring us completely. Most commonly this happens when something exciting is going on, such as when you attend a training class, take your dog for a walk, or even just when visitors arrive. “But he knows this!” we hear time and time again, while the dog becomes more frantic and the owner more frustrated.

But does he really know what you’re asking? Have you trained that behaviour?

All too often we forget that our dogs are terrible at generalising. This means that while they know how to sit on cue at home, in the lounge room, when we have a handful of treats, they don’t easily make the leap at realise that the same rules apply in new situations as well. We have to go through and break it down for our dog.

Before you take your dog to that busy dog park, or popular walking track, think about the skills he will need to be successful. Does he know how to walk beside you on leash? Focus when other dogs are around? Sit before crossing the road? Watch bikes and scooters pass without barking? Now, think about whether you have helped your dog achieve those skills.

We are often in such a hurry to go places with our dogs that we forget to take the time to prepare them for these things. Training starts at home, but it doesn’t finish there. You need to help your dog learn that training doesn’t stop when we step out of the house. Practice training in the front yard, and on walks around quiet neighbourhoods. Carry treats, reward good behaviour. As you and your dog become successful in these new environments you can gradually increase the challenge. We have to teach our dog that listening pays off, no matter where we are or what’s happening around us.

Failure to train these essential skills leads to frustration, for both you and your dog, and frustration leads us to do some pretty silly things. When we feel frustrated we are more likely to behave reactively, such as yanking on our dogs lead, or scolding them. When we recognise that our dogs simply don’t have the training or the skill set to behave the way we want, we can see that the responsibility lies with us to teach our dog.

If you are having trouble with your dogs behaviour, stop and think about the training you have done and whether it is enough. Join a reward-based chat group, or better yet contact a reward-based trainer for help.

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Is he stubborn, or smart?

In my experience, dogs that people call “stubborn”, “stupid”, or “untrainable” are often the dogs who really just want to know “What’s in it for me?”

Dogs have been kept as companions for thousands of years now, and one of the characteristics that we really like to breed into dogs is their ability to focus on and read subtle cues that we give. Some breeds, like kelpies and border collies, have been bred to really focus on these cues and to have a high drive to work with people. These dogs are typically called “smart” or “highly trainable”. They are no smarter than any other dogs (sorry folks), but their high drive for working with people means they respond first and worry about their payment later. Most enjoy the physical nature of the work they do enough that they find the work itself rewarding.

So how do “stubborn” breeds differ? Often they are breeds that were originally bred to work independently (as guards or hunters), responding to cues that come from external factors rather than people (such as the approach of someone unfamiliar, or finding a good scent). These characteristics set them up perfectly for the work they were bred for, but it means that we have to put in some work if we want our “stubborn” dog to focus on us.

stubborn dogs

This leads me back to the start of this blog. When we train our dog, we should always be able to answer the question “What’s in it for the dog?”. If we expect our dog to listen, the answer should be something the dog would want to work for (hot dogs, a game of tug, a belly rub).

Last year I read a great book called When Pigs Fly by Jane Killion. It is full of absolutely wonderful tips and guides for turning your “stubborn” dog into a training superstar. Depending on your dog you might need to start by actually teaching your dog that training is fun, or you might just need to change the approach you take.

No dog is “stupid” or “untrainable”, some just force us to start training smart, not tough!