Having expectations doesn’t make the dog suffer…

I am not going to lie, I have very high expectations of my dogs.  I expect them to eliminate in the proper place (outside), to behave in potentially crowded public spaces around people and dogs, to be reliable on-leash and off-leash, to be able to perform in highly distracting environments, to choose to work with me even when awesome things are around, etc.  I do ask a lot of my dogs… BUT those expectations do not take away from their dog-ness or their happiness.  Although some of the expectations are constant (pottying outside, being reliable off-leash, being reliable on-leash), many of them are very situational.  For as often as I ask Rio to play disc in a park with squirrels running about and ignore the squirrels, I probably let him chase/sniff out/be engaged with them two or three times more as often.  Although I ask them to work with me when it’s cold, rainy, breezy, at a large dog event… I’m just as content with them running around like maniacs doing their own thing on the farm as I just meander about.

One of the things I find myself regularly reminding students is that it is absolutely okay to have expectations of your dog.  You don’t have to live with improper elimination, pulling on walks, or jumping just because, “he’s just a dog.”  On the flip side, having expectations won’t create a robotic non-dog who does nothing independently (not necessarily at least, I’m sure with improper handling someone could create that robo-dog).

Honestly, I think that when we start laying down expectations for our dogs, we are able to coexist more harmoniously.  When we want something but don’t ask, it can create a very contentious situation. I see this frequently, “I’m at my wit’s end with this dog, he keeps pulling me over when I try to walk him!”--Well, have you ever taught him to walk politely on the leash?   Since I watched this dog drag this woman around, I can guess that while she may have taught him to walk nicely at some point, she didn’t hold him to that criteria and has, over time, grown to really resent the dog for pulling even though she lets him do it.  If she had simply held her dog to the criteria of a loose leash, she would not be having these negative feelings toward her dog–regardless of breed, that dog is capable of walking without pulling if you give the dog clear expectations.  Now, you want to make sure you work up toward the expectations but be clear and consistent and you can communicate and coexist quite beautifully.

There are aspects of dog training that some people assume as being mutually exclusive, though, in my opinion, that is just simply not the case.  I once heard someone say that my working on sports foundations with Rio as a 5 month old puppy would cause him to be “lacking” in his ability to be a good companion animal.  Some how the work I was doing with focus, exposure to different surfaces, basic handling skills, and handling games were going to create a dog who couldn’t be a companion animal (I still don’t exactly know why they felt this way).  Just because I spent some time working on recall games, focus games, sticky-handling, and confidence on various objects/surfaces doesn’t mean I cannot also work on settling in the house, socialization, house training, manners for in the home etc.

When I got Rio at 4.5 months of age… he spent about 10 minutes every day training in a semi-formal training session (but had other informal foundation of behavior being taught throughout the day).  He spent the other 1430 minutes each day learning to be a dog, learning to be a dog in my home (learning some house rules etc), learning about tall people/short people/Latino people/Asian people/men/women/children/big dogs/little dogs/scared dogs/friendly dogs/etc.  Even when he spent an hour once a week in a class… he still was able to become a very well rounded and well socialized dog.  Training and ‘being a dog’ aren’t mutually exclusive… it is totally possible to balance both aspects of puppy raising in a way where both sides are fulfilled. Some of the best puppy raisers I know have this amazing way of balancing being a dog with training and they raise some of the most well-rounded adult dogs.

Anyhow, long story short… don’t sell your dogs short.  They are capable beings who can learn rules and understand expectations.  And really, I think having obtainable expectations of our dogs can aid in communication and having a positive, non-resentful relationship.


About Success Just Clicks

I'm a dog trainer and enthusiast who moonlights as a blogger and custom tug-toy maker.
This entry was posted in clicker training, Dog Behavior, Dog Handler Information, Dog Training methods, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Having expectations doesn’t make the dog suffer…

  1. Ron Watson says:

    Great piece, Tena!
    You are totally correct, the 23 hours and 45 minutes of each day not spent on formal training are the lion’s share of your dog’s learning. Simple expectations and consequent reinforcement during that 23:45 are extremely important.
    Great show!

    • Exactly… im’ of the opinion that being a dog/socializing/training/etc are not at all mutually exclusive and that the best dog raisers can do it all and without clear cut boundaries to the pup…

  2. Tucker's Mom says:

    This is a wonderful post … probably one of my favorites. The reality is, knowingly or not, we are training our dogs every minute of every day that we spend with them, not just while they are puppies, but throughout their lives. They are always learning. What we teach is up to us.

    • Glad you like it! I don’t understand how someone could not be teaching and training puppies …. they are like sponges and learn so much by simply co-existing with us … why not use it to our advantage …

  3. Ci Da says:

    I had heard (probably from Dster) that you can have a 100% confident dog or a 100% compliant dog, not both as the two are inversely related to each other (60% confident and 40% compliant is possible though, for example). This idea has really rung true for me.

    Unsurprisingly I’ve decided to attempt to emphasize compliance over confidence — most of the interaction I have with my dog via sports and other activities require her to respond quickly to cues in order to succeed. And she’s succeeding marvelously – she’s a pro at focusing on me in large crowds, and has some awesome impulse control around distractions.

    I laid the groundwork for this when she was a pup. But of course this didn’t rob her of her puppyhood. She had loads of opportunities to go play and explore (probably more than most pups) but the emphasis was to always check back with me afterwards.

    I occasionally wonder what my pup would be like if I’d been more lax in training. Honestly I think Cohen would be even more of a monster than she is already, and probably very difficult to live with. If I had the opportunity to do it all over again I would likely do just as I have, since I am so immensely pleased with how my dog has turned out.

    • Exactly… i laid lots of foundations with Rio as a puppy both sports but also daily stuff (down-stay for dinner, letting me get into bed before he was invited, staying out of the kitchen etc)… these boundaries, expectations, and training didn’t take anything away from him being a puppy and being dog… the result is a dog who is very well rounded.

  4. Ximena says:

    I’ve always had very high expectations of Elli… but approached them in the wrong way at first. I wanted her to do some complex behavior right from the get-go instead of shaping her to do so in tiny steps. My impatience got the best of me and I was, for a little while, her least favorite person. Once she taught me to start from the foundation levels, our relationship grew so much… and I cannot put into words how lucky I am to have her in my life. 🙂 So yes, have expectations, but definitely work up to the final goals. 🙂

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