“Ruby, you need to look at that dog! Look at how good she is being! Why can’t you be like her! You should take a lesson!” So says a lady at Petsmart yesterday. She had a young adult Border Collie who was pulling her, lunging forward, circling her wildly, pulling her backwards, and dragging her all over the place. The woman resorted to bending over and saying, “Knock it off!” in a low, deep, intimidating tone (though not loud). Clearly upset (sarcasm), the dog spun around wiggling all over the place to pull her toward the rawhides.
Shortly after this, an employee approached me asking if I trained the dogs myself (I had previously had Rio and Dexter working in the store). I explained that yes I trained them myself but that I’m also a trainer and teach classes at the local humane society. He then said this, “Oh wow, if classes there could get my dog acting even half as good, that would be amazing! My dog is just all over the place and crazy and never listens!”
Now, I don’t say this to pat myself on the back or draw attention to my dogs (though they are pretty fantastic and Shayne really is a good girl). It’s actually to point out that I’m not magical or special and that my dogs aren’t just naturally awesome–well, not in that way. It really isn’t a secret, in fact my response is the same whenever we are given such compliments…
“We’ve worked really hard to get here.”
I frequently get blank stares when I say this… I never have figured out why people find it so strange that one has to work hard to have a dog act the way mine to at the store (heeling, performing cues, not sniffing everything, not jumping at people, holding a down stay, etc). Could a 4 year old child behave well in a store without a lot of work–heck, even with a lot of work they can have meltdowns! It just shocks me that people sort of expect to have a dog behaving as well as mine do with no work. I try to impress upon them that I do regular work with them to have them listening the way they do. I also add that you really do get out of it what you put into it–if you do training regularly (while on walks, at the store, taking a class or separate training sessions) then you will be rewarded with a dog who is accustomed to listening and responding. If you don’t do the work to build reliable behaviors, your dog will likely be less reliable with listening and responding appropriately to cues.
Now, there are certainly dogs who can be well mannered in the home–no jumping, no barking, friendly, respectful of human dinner table etc. without extensive training, but that’s very different from having a dog who will reliably respond to cues in high distraction areas.
I honestly think that anyone can have a dog who is well trained. There are certainly dogs that are easier to train than others, but if handlers put the time and effort into building a strong relationship with their dog, it can be achieved. It’s not something that magically happens while you sleep or while you make dinner. You cannot just put a training DVD in for the dogs to watch and hope the dogs learn through osmosis.
Like I tell my students, if you attend all six classes and do training during those 6 hours but ONLY during those 6 hours, you will probably leave class with a dog that is just as out of control as when you started. If, however, you go home and do even just 15 minutes of training each day, you will make substantial progress in just 6 weeks.
So yes, I will take compliments on Shayne’s obedience behaviors (because yes, she IS awesome)…but I will always respond that it’s all about the time and effort I put into working with her because that’s the truth.