To which I respond, “We work really hard.”

“Wow!  She is so well behaved and so well trained!” says the Lady at the pet store.

To which I respond, “Thanks!  We’ve worked really hard to get her to be so well behaved and well trained!  It takes work but it’s worth it!”

Unfortunately, dogs (well most dogs) do not come to us pre-trained and ready to go (especially puppies).  They come to us fluent (hopefully) in dog language and dog social etiquette but are not so aware of human culture and etiquette.  It is our job as dog handlers to teach our dogs how to be good citizens (however we define that).  Even the dogs of yesteryear who seemed to be the “perfect” family dog with no formal training were probably taught in real world situations how to behave and how to react.  They were rewarded for good behavior and probably punished for unwanted behavior–but nonetheless, there was a commitment to teaching the dog to live in our world.

I have run across so many people who want that ideal dog (ideal for their situation) but who are not willing to work to get that result.  Now, for me, the ideal dog is one who knows advanced obedience behaviors, who is reliably able to think while in drive, who can be brought anywhere and everywhere and be comfortable, confident, and still compliant.  For most folks, they are looking for a dog to walk nicely on leash, not jump, not pee in the house, and reliably come back when called (sit and down are just gravy).  Regardless of the end result (either a highly trained dog or a great family pet with good manners), it takes work and some amount of time to train a dog.

You really do get out of it what you put into it.  If you make no effort to work with your dog, chances are, you will not end up with the type of dog you’d like to end up with.  If you put some work into your dog, are consistent with your expectations and are consistent with rewarding behaviors you like while preventing/redirecting/and occasionally punishing (non-physical punishments) those you don’t want, you can have that well mannered dog.

Tonight in class, I was teaching It’s Yer Choice to a new dog in class.  He’s a big beautiful Boxer… I put treats in my hand and absorbed about 3 consecutive minutes of painful scratching (boxers being very feet oriented)… my wrist was red, scratched-up, and nearly bleeding but eventually he looked away and I rewarded that look away.  He went back to using his feet but only for about 20 seconds before backing up “GOOD!” … it took him about 5 minutes to learn these new rules.  He “failed” a lot in the beginning but he wasn’t a “bad dog,” he simply hadn’t learned the rules yet.  Once he figured it out, boy did he catch on fast, it was pretty awesome (when he swapped over to working for his handlers he only used his feet twice–smart dog!)!  This result took some patience and it did take work (even just 5 minutes) but I was clear with the rules and the dog learned easily what got him the food.  This dog just learned a huge lesson that will help him to be a good citizen in our human culture–impulse control!

Most dogs are not ‘bad dogs’ … they have simply not been taught how to behave in a way that is compatible with our human culture and follow our rules.  I certainly understand the human frustration aspect (I’m a dog trainer who is embarrassed by my fence-fighting dogs [work in progress and my dogs didn’t start it, they learned from Bandit]) but it’s not personal and people just have to keep working through it to get the results they want–giving up doesn’t get them any closer to the results.  There are many times I blame the dogs for things (when I burp, when there are crumbs on the floor, that broken lamp, shoes not on the mat, etc–yeah, I blame the dogs for things they didn’t do) but I cannot blame the dogs for not doing what I want if I haven’t taught it.  They are not being bad, they are not being stubborn… they simply do not understand what I am telling them.

The onus for having a well behaved dog is not on the dog but is squarely on the shoulders of the human handlers.  The level of training you’d like to reach will, to an extent, dictate the time it takes to achieve the results.  Regardless, a commitment must be made and patience must me had to work toward that positive behavior.


About Success Just Clicks

I'm a dog trainer and enthusiast who moonlights as a blogger and custom tug-toy maker.
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17 Responses to To which I respond, “We work really hard.”

  1. LOVE the first sentence in the last paragraph. So so true!

  2. JoG says:

    Your 100% correct. Dogs are amazing animals that learn a 2nd language (Human – english, german, or french, etc.) and how to modify their behaviors to work in the human world. They learn best with positive reinforcement; and owners that spend the time to take both group classes and personal time training their dog learn that training is fun and exciting. Basic obedience is the place to start but you can continue reinforcing skills and learn new ones with sports like agility, freestyle, treibball, flyball, to name a few. Check out your favorite training center and get involved!

  3. Ci Da says:

    Lack of training being such a huge factor in a dog being given up to a shelter (or otherwise losing their home) I think it’s important to emphasize how important training is, and how FUN it can be to get there. Too often people think of obedience drills as boring and tedious for both the handler and the dog. They don’t understand that every single thing you teach your dog can be turned into a game that both of you can enjoy.

  4. lexy3587 says:

    great points. I definitely need to work on teh come-command again. He had it… and for some reason, it is gone… It’s frustrating to basically start back at basics, but I’m guessing that lack of regular practice at it is the cause, not Gwynn’s suddenly deciding that I’m not the boss of him.

    • Yep it’s most often an breakdown in practice… I’m a math person… i love math… it makes sense to me… but I haven’t taken a math class in probably 5 years…. there is a good chance i’d have some trouble even with pre-calculus… it’s been many years with out practice.. those skills have faded a bit.

  5. Ximena says:

    I love* this post! It’s definitely an absolute MUST for any new doggy parent to learn!

    And i loove that picture of little bitty Rio hahah. How you captured that moment is beyond me.

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  7. Of Pit Bulls and Patience says:

    Here Here! That is the sentiments that I would make to another dog professional, but do you have any great phrases for making that clear to owners who expect the dog they want, but don’t want to work for it? I’m not the brutally honest type, and I often have trouble expressing to new clients that the result will depend on the effort they put into the training. Any ideas?

    • I like to use a bank account analogy. Dog training is like your bank account… “the more you put into it the more you get out of it later.” Let’s say training for x minutes is like putting $x into the bank. If you train for 3 minutes a day, you will have trained for about 90 minutes in a month (as if you put $90 in the bank)… If you put in 10 minutes each day (which is about the amount of commercial time in an hour tv show) you’ll get $300 in the bank. Now which bank account would you rather have?

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  9. This one I do remember reading, but I guess for some reason I never replied. (Sorry) You hit the nail on the head with this. People see my Toby and tell me how good he is and they can’t believe someone got rid of him (he’s a rescue). They don’t see the four years of work I put into him. They don’t know how much trouble he was when I first adopted him, even I wondered if I’d made a mistake. Yes he’s a great dog, but even now, he has his days. (But don’t worry – I still love him.) 🙂

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