Friday, October 31, 2014

What do I want from my dog?

The last post I shared was about why I prefer positive reinforcement. I spent awhile thinking after posting about the dogs I have trained through various methods. One element that I realized is that my most recent dog, Andreu, who has had more consistently positive training in his life than any of my other dogs (partly because I started with him so young and partly because I previously utilized more aversive techniques), is the most charismatic, happy, goofy dog I have ever had.  This made me think about what it is that we all want in a dog. I have loved every dog I have ever owned, and all have been amazing examples of the human dog relationship. 
However, Andreu has made me laugh every day he has been with me...his goofy antics bring a smile to my face, and I can't help but wonder, if I had trained my previous dogs with the same methods, would they have been able to express their own personalities more? 
This may seem like a silly concept to some, but really, what is a dog there for? Why do people want to have dogs in their lives? Is it so that we can show that we have a trained companion that can do whatever we tell them to at any moment? Don't get me wrong, Andreu is very well behaved, and has received compliments in the Rally Obedience ring for his exceptional training. He also competes in agility and has been very successful, also receiving comments about how fast and willing to work he is. But Andreu is a character; he is goofy and happy all the time, sitting on the couch with his paws up like a person would, licking the face of the people he knows and likes, jumping straight up in the air when he is excited about something. He will rub up against you like a cat so that you will strach the spot just above his tail, he will randomly go into the bedroom and start rolling around on the bed barking at himself in a random game he likes to play. He loves other dogs and will play with them if they are willing, he gets excited in new places and wants to interact with any new dog around.  All of these antics could easily be distinguished "ill-behaved" but they make me laugh, none of them are breaking his rules of my training, and they all make him happy.
So, the question is, what do I want in a dog? I have some particular specifications being a dog trainer. With Andreu, I wanted a dog who likes other dogs, and can help me work with dogs to understand social manners. I also wanted a dog you loves agility and would perform for me when asked. Above all, I wanted a dog who I enjoy spending time with, and Andreu is absolutely all of those things. 
I see many trainers, and training videos/shows, out there that advocate having a well-behaved dog, and believe me, I love having a well-behaved dog too, but more so, I prefer having a dog who I enjoy spending time with, who makes me laugh, and makes each day more enjoyable.
A dog doesn't need to be trained as a soldier to enjoy life, actually the opposite, a dog can be well behaved and also exuberantly happy. 
The problem that I have seen recently in the dog ownership community is that people have a tendency to see a "trained" or "well-behaved" dog as one who does nothing other than follow orders, and others see misbehaved and wild dogs as comical. 
There is a happy medium. You can have a dog that is well-behaved and goofy/happy/exhuberant at the same time! However, this is gained through positive reinforcement training. 

One of the biggest issues that I face as a positive reinforcement trainer is that many of my clients have already implemented aversive techniques, based on tv shows, or recommendations by their friends, neighbors, or random strangers. If they are using some of those techniques, and some of mine, it can become confusing for the dog, and often leads to mediocre results at best, because the dog doesn't really understand what to do. 
I know, everyone thinks they are a dog trainer, because they have trained their own dog, or watched a show. Everyone is willing to doll out advice as if they know what they are talking about. I understand that this is a controversial point that will hit home for a lot of people, but here is the reality; just because your neighbor/friend/ect. has trained 1-6 dogs in their lifetime, does that mean that they are an expert? I can easily say that I have trained about 3,000 dogs (on a conservative estimate), and I have probably used the methods that have been recommended to you at one point or another. If I don't use them now, it's because I have found that although they may be effective in some cases, they are not in all, and more so I may have found that the fall out of these methods are not worthy of their use in the first place. 
This is why people hire a trainer, to gain their expertise. 
To be fair, I am a very lenient dog trainer; I try to not be pushy about how to do things, but please, don't mistake my consideration for lack of knowledge. There are thousands of people who will tell you that they have the answers for dog training, and you can try their thousand different methods, or you can hire an expert who can tell you the upsides and downsides to the different training methods. 
Ultimately, my point is, I would rather have a dog who I enjoy living with, and is well-behaved. I have made my mistakes, and I am the first person who would encourage people not to do the same thing. 

If you want a dog who is a soldier, shut down, and only listens to orders, then by all means, be as harsh as you like, as much as it pains me for the sake of the dog. But, if you want a dog who is well-behaved, and also happy, charismatic, funny, and enjoyable, then call a REAL trainer, who will help you find a way to create that kind of a relationship. Take their advice...don't mix your own experience with their recommendations, just try it out for awhile and see what you get.

Thank you for listening to the struggles of a dog trainer.

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