You read that right. Your dog training is YOU!
Now, I know this idea causes some people to run out of the room with their head on fire, but hear me out. This happens to everyone. Yes, even you.
The fact of the matter is, our dogs are smart and thinking little beings, who have desires and interests. They oftentimes will look out for numero uno, and spoiler-alert, that is not always their person.
Does this mean that your dog secretly is conspiring against you, waiting for the perfect moment to dominate you and ruin your life? Of course not. What it does mean is that we are in a constant feedback loop with our dogs. And this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Let's take feeding time for instance. For many dogs, this is a sacred time of day. Every dog owner can appreciate their dog's ability to tell time, and how incensed they can become when we are even a millisecond late. But, have you ever seen your dog come up to you with the inquisitive look of, "Maybe early dinner today"? How you react to this request will inform how effective of a trainer you dog is. If you leap up and feed them, the take-away is, "Person will feed me when I ask". If you give them a pat and remind them dinner will be a few minutes, the take away will be THAT approach did not work, but it goes a step farther: the dog will then abandon this tact altogether, or will put in more effort to teach you this behavior of feeding them earlier.
The same exact way you would interact with your dog when you are training them a new behavior.
"BUT I DON'T WANT TO BE TRAINED BY MY DOG!"
Sit down, I have something important to tell you:
You are being trained all the time by everyone and anyone around you.
Every interaction you have is a social learning moment. As a general rule, being a social species such as we are, causes us to want to keep the peace. So, if you see that saying or doing something causes a negative reaction in someone else, you will likely change or alter your interaction next time. This is in an attempt to avoid conflict. All dog training is, in this context, is social learning. Two completely different species trying to figure out how to live with one another is relative peace.
"I don't like any of this Santos…"
There is a reason why I am bringing this up. The fact that your dog is actively involved in the social interaction with you can be an outstanding training tool for you.
If you know that your dog is actively trying to interact, and affect you, why not use that your fact to your advantage? Why not shift the dynamic from you forcing your dog to do to something, to making your dog think it was their idea in the first place?
Your dog wants things: Food. Attention. Play. Love. Stuff.
Use that "want". Make it so that they get the "want" for doing the behavior you were looking for. Make the dog think, "Look at what I can I get my person to do! I can sit by the door, and it makes them open it so I can run around the backyard and play with my toys!"
"…That is just making the dog wait at the door to go outside…"
True. But look at it from the dog's perspective. THEY controlled when you opened the door. By sitting. See the difference?
If we can shift our thinking of how we interact with their dogs, and see them as the social, thinking and desire-filled beings they really are, then we can take our training to the next level. We can frame the picture so the dog is actively engaged and the results will be stronger. The dog will feel as though they are involved in the end result, which they are.
What are some ways you can help shift your approach and training with your dog to take into account their desires, wants and needs?
Author: Dianna L. Santos, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CNWI
Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Pet Dog U, Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined PDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.
In June 2021, Dianna and her business partner, Sean McMurray launched Cyber Scent Work, Inc., an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, Inc., handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, Inc., you will be happy you did!