The Reality vs expectations of dog ownership.
During my time working with dogs, from young puppies of 8 weeks right through to the veterans and senior citizens of the dog world there are a few things I have noticed over and over again. This doesn't apply to everyone but is something that I have picked up. People expect a dog to behave in a certain way simply because it is a dog!!
"Well that's what dogs do, isn't it?"
The honest answer is NO!!! Your dog will behave however you allow it to behave, and by that, what I really mean is how you have taught it to behave. Right from the first day you get your dog, be that a puppy or an older dog, it is our responsibility to put boundaries and rules in place. We have to teach them which behaviours are acceptable and which we do not want. This goes for everything. Walking nicely on the lead, not jumping up, coming back when called, even going outside to the toilet rather than doing it in the house are all things that have to be encouraged or discouraged depending on the desired outcome. Simply expecting your dog to do it, just because that's what a dog is supposed to do, is not enough and very rarely, if ever, works. The good news is though that with a little work you can achieve great results in a very short space of time, that is the key, TIME. You will get out of your dog what you put in.
How long does it take to train a dog?
That all depends on what you are trying to achieve, the age of the dog, and how consistent you are with your training. A few repetitions of a basic exercise, such as sit, done for a few minutes each session with a puppy, will soon have them sitting on command and often even before you have asked them to sit once they become conditioned to do so. Trying to do long sessions with a young puppy will leave both you and your pup frustrated and not looking forward to your next session. Little and often is much better than trying to cram too much in. The best way I can liken a puppy to humans at a young age is like a toddler. They need your guidance, they need your supervision and they need your time to teach them how to behave. They have short attention spans and have no idea what the world is about and how they should behave. Just like a child, our job is to teach them how to grow up and develop into well-mannered individuals, it doesn't just happen.
As your puppy ages, you can extend your training sessions and make them gradually more challenging to keep them mentally stimulated but initially keep it simple. Be certain they have learned and understand what you want or expect them to do before moving on to the next lesson. We cannot expect them to behave in a certain way if we have not taught them the things we are expecting them to do.
With older dogs it can take a little bit longer to teach and form new behaviours as just like with humans, we first have to break or at least stop doing certain habits. And that is what we are essentially doing with puppy or dog training. We are conditioning and forming new habits, which takes time.
If we teach a lesson, or behaviour, on a little and often basis and reward it each time it is done successfully it will not take long before this behavior becomes a habit. It can then be expected, but NOT before, NOT without putting in the time and effort. Each time one behaviour is learned and understood then we can add a new lesson and repeat the process. Before you know it your dog will be behaving. It will be coming back, it will walk nicely on the lead. Why? Because you, or someone else, have taught them that that is what they should do.
WHY should I? What's in it for me?
This is the mentality of most dogs. Why should I do something? What do I get from doing it? What other options do I have?
How often have you seen or had your dog off their lead exercising and then run over to interact with someone else or another dog and completely ignore the owner? I see it all the time and in fact its a very common sight. Why? There are a few reasons but it all comes down to the fact that the dog gets more out of being with that other person or dog than they get from the owner.
I'm not talking about the casual walk past, say "hi", then catch up. I'm talking about the blatant ignoring, not lifting their head to look at you, and doing what they want to do the type of behaviour.
This goes back to my first point of putting time into your dog and conditioning it, forming habits, to behave in a certain way. I see far too often people take the dog for a walk. They clip the dog on the lead and leave the house. They get to where they're going and let the dog off the lead and only interact with the dog to either tell them off because they're doing something they shouldn't be or to put them back on the lead to go home. The dog has no reason, absolutely zero, to listen or interact with that owner when out and about, except that the owner expects them to do as they're told.
The good news is that with a small change in our mentality, and a little bit of work, we can rectify this. Dog training is an ongoing process, it never stops. It might not feel like training sometimes but everything we do is teaching the dog to behave in a certain way.
When you leave the house instead of going for a walk, take the dog for a training session. Teach them to sit before putting the lead on them at home. Teach them to sit, when you leave the house and close the door behind you. Praise them when they walk nicely at the side of you, reward them. Get them conditioned to receive praise, treats, and rewards when they're walking where they should be.
Teach them that when they come back they get the same rewards. Talk to them, let them know they're doing what you want them to do, INTERACT with them. If your dog listens to you when it is close by and behaves when there are no distractions around then it is far more likely to do it when there are distractions around.
If your dog doesn't listen and runs off to greet others and then proceeds to ignore you there is no point in shouting and screaming until you're blue in the face. GO and get your dog, clip it on the lead and take it back to where you were shouting it. DO NOT EVER tell your dog off when it finally does come back.
Dogs live in the moment.
When you tell your dog off it associates whatever it is doing at that time with the telling off. If your dog ignores you and finally comes back when it's ready and you tell it off, it thinks it is being told off for coming back, not for ignoring you. That is why you HAVE to go and get them, so they understand that is what they are being told off for and not wait until they come back to you. If not you are teaching your dog that by coming back it gets told off, which is not what we want.
It is the same for house training puppies. If you find your puppy has had an accident but do not catch them doing it then there is no point telling them off, they will not have any idea why they are being told off. If you catch them then in a firm tone scold them and put them outside. DO NOT EVER RUB THEIR NOSE IN IT.
Watch them more closely, pay attention to them, give them your time.
The question in dog training isn't "Have I got the time ?". It takes a few minutes each day, we can all find that. If it means turning off the TV, lifting your head out of your phone, just getting up and doing it, it's down to you and you could find the time if you wanted to. The actual reality is more like can I be bothered and do I really want to. These are just some of the realities vs the expectations of dog ownership.
You get out of your dog and the training what you put in, you can do it. Remember little and often.