Sabotage Dog Training

I get many calls around this time of year for dog training. Miami families adopt pets for the holidays, and everyone is happy and hopeful. However, when one person gets a dog as a surprise for a loved one or when one family member does not want a dog, and another does, this can causes problems, tension and is the bane of a successful dog training program.

When a family wants to have a child, most likely lengthy discussions have taken place about living situations, education, schools, neighborhoods, doctors, and much planning goes into the process. Rarely do you hear a partner proclaim, “OK, you can have the kid, but I am not participating in the child-rearing or teaching the child. I just agree to have the child for you!” Most would understand how ludicrous and selfish this sounds. Let me pontificate that this sounds as equally ridiculous about adopting or buying a new dog as it does about raising a child.

Right off the bat, I hope people understand that adopting a pet is for life and not a novelty and requires the same similar plans and discussions that would involve caring for any living sentient being. Being a pet parent is a privilege, not a right. But I digress. Many want to get their partner or loved one a dog for the holidays or a birthday present but don’t want to participate in the rearing of the dog, or take the responsibility of training or understanding the dog. They understandably want to make their partner happy and believe buying a dog will do so. However, what they fail to realize is the disconnect between being a pet parent and the time that ALL people living under the roof with the dog must dedicate to dog training. The person in the household who is disinterested in the dog or training is the missing/weak link. This person will likely end up consciously or unconsciously sabotaging the dog training process because of their lack of participation in the dog training sessions, understanding of their dog and inadequate practice with their dog. This issue must be addressed by the family in the same manner in which a very important decision of having a child must be discussed, prior to getting a dog or puppy or they can and most likely will sabotage the dog’s training progress and behavior.


My Situation Growing Up

When I was a kid, while my mother tried to rescue every dog she came across, my father was completely and utterly disinterested in dog training and or working with them. Luckily, that left me to train and work with them and from there grew my insatiable appetite to understand why dogs behave the way they do. Other than my father allowing them to come on the couch when he was watching television and sharing his cookies with them he was absent from training and didn’t care. Hence his selfishness, (sorry dad) confused and put undue stress on the dogs, myself, my brothers, and my mother because he was unaware of how his behavior affected the dog’s behavior. Because he was the weakest link, didn’t care and was disinterested in learning and practicing dog training, the pups were inevitably confused and had OK behavior, at best.

Why Must I Practice, Can’t I Just Read a Book, Watch and Viscerally Understand?

Learning through osmosis doesn’t work. Imaging reading every book you could find on basketball and didn’t or rarely practiced, and then you walked onto a court with some awesome ballers and tried your hand. Let’s just say it would be a funny sight to behold. A dog is a living, breathing, feeling, and sentient being. They are not a human being and not an inanimate object that can be programmed, like a robot. Dog training is a learned skill that focuses as much on the pet parents as it does on the dog.  Much like any sport, dog training involves not only a detailed understanding by all family members but most importantly practice, practice, practice.

People tend to think that a dog trainer will come over and “make their dog obedient”. A trainer will come over, give your dog a lobotomy, whisper something in your dog’s ear and voila. After some reprogramming of the brain, and ensuring the parents that there is no magic fairy pixy dust only trainers possess, I encourage families to think more of the relationship that they have with their dog, as a growing, bond and learning to understand one another to communicate effectively together. Think of learning to communicate with your dog through “Crucial Conversations” and “Nonviolent Communications” not through confrontation, bullying, and force!  Your trainer and behaviorist is your facilitator to help guide you through this process, effectively, efficiently, and with compassion and clarity. As with any relationship, communication is critical and takes work. Communication is not even innate amongst person to person, how can one expect a dog or any other species to inherently understand what it is you want? Understanding and communication are not innate to most people, and their dogs are not born to “understand” us, our language, or social mores any more than you understand elephants or their language. But more so than simply understanding, dog training takes practice and lots of it. Dog training evolves as do all relationships through the cycle of life and is a process, not an event.  Training is not “done” once the trainer leaves your home. Conversely, it has just begun.

Dog Training Names

A dog trainer is an easy and common label but is completely inaccurate. A great dog trainer is a dog psychologist, ethologist, coach, facilitator, motivator, guide, communicator, teacher, doer, and instructor all wrapped up in a ball. Without all of those components, I would find yourself another dog trainer.

Not analogous, but merely to help visual learners, imagine you want to get in shape mentally and physically, and live a compassionate, healthy lifestyle, so you hire a personal trainer who also is a life coach, nutritionist, psychologist, and yoga instructor. You begin meditating, change your diet to vegan and begin exercising every day of the week. Once your trainer leaves your home, you cannot go back to the same habits of surrounding yourself with negative thinking gossipers, lounging on the couch all day, eating unhealthy foods and not work out. The trainer cannot force you to stay in shape or eat healthily when he/she is not with you. It is your responsibility as an adult to be coachable and to follow the instructions and to actualize the training process and to learn how to use the machines, equipment, methods, what to eat, and how to do the exercises correctly before you become healthy, and build your muscles, intellect, and stamina healthily.

Without the knowledge AND practice component, your dreams of being in shape and living a compassionate, healthy lifestyle are just words living somewhere out there in the illusionary future.

New Puppy Dog – Yippee!

Now enter another living being – your dog! Obviously, a dog is not a piece of equipment or inanimate object contrary to what our laws would have you believe. In addition, dogs are not interacting with JUST you all day. Enter – your partner, kids, staff, cleaning lady, friends…etc. While a single person living by themselves may have a much easier time dog training, this is typically not the case. Additionally, when you are with your dog, it may be easier to control limited interactions with others outside of your home, if their time with your dog is supervised by you and limited (strangers, doormen, mailperson) it is not possible or reasonable to have this degree of control when you are living with someone under the same roof or who spends a lot of time (unsupervised) with your dog.

Enter Saboteur/s

Anyone who spends a lot of time with your dog needs to practice and understand what to do and not to do to encourage and change behavior that you all want to achieve. If partners, family or roommates do not understand and/or do not care to learn, and more importantly, do not practice with your dog, everyone will suffer. Your dog will have an infinitely harder time learning, and your job just got a lot more difficult and frustrating.

Dog steels other dogs hot dogs

Wait, what the !#$ The little bitch sabotaged our training!

The Inevitable

Imagine this for a moment, teaching and practicing with your dog diligently for months teaching them not to approach the dining room table while you are eating dinner or when someone was sitting down eating, and not to jump on people. Then a friend comes over and stays with you for a week or your spouse who does not want to be part of the dog training comes home from work and slaps their legs encouraging jumping, talks in a baby voice, and offers your dog food rewards every time your dog jumps. You ask them to please STOP doing this because you do not want your dog to jump and they give you the nauseous reply you hear too often “it’s ok, I like dogs” grrr. Now your dog is on an intermittent reinforcement schedule for jumping. This behavior just became many times more difficult to extinguish with DRA/DRI differential reinforcing an alternative or incompatible behavior than before your partner rewarded your dog for jumping.

Your kids or partner don’t have a clue what you are talking about because they are not interested in being part of the dog training and learning process. So it’s a lost cause, and your dog continues to be inappropriately rewarded for barking at the table for food (because your kids or partner keeps providing them treats under the table) and jumping up on people because that is what is being rewarded.  Worse, they like to see you get upset and flustered and do it shits and giggles with total disregard for you and the dog. The list goes on and on of potential conflicts when one person does not want to be a part of the dog training sessions.

When dog training everyone who regularly interacts with the dog must be onboard or the process is doomed to fail, and the poor dog will be at best confused and at worst will completely tone you out, and other potentially undesirable behaviors will spring up and become stronger.

floor drops out in elevator surprise

Sabotage sucks

Even if You Call The Best Dog Trainer In The World

How could I have a dog that doesn’t listen to me!? It doesn’t matter if you hire LeBron James to teach you basketball if you are not interested in learning and you don’t get off your butt to practice and put in the sweat equity you might as well give up basketball. If you have a situation like this, while you go to work, your kids, housekeeper, or husband/wife (who works from home) who all were not interested in learning and practicing dog training are home sabotaging the dog’s behavior and your hard work. Do yourself a favor and rethink getting a dog and focus on a material item instead, not a living being.

Unless everyone who lives or interacts with your dog regularly is onboard, dog training and behavior modification is a lost cause. Nothing in life is free. Contrary to the Disneyfication of our youth, great relationships take work. If you are still in disbelief, ponder this to highlight the potential strength of sabotaging a dog’s training and behavior. Even after a dog has been through months of extensive service dog training, after the service dog gets placed with an individual with a disability, even if that person understands training well and follows the cues clearly and practices daily with the service dog, often times the dog and the family will still need touch-ups and retraining once in a while to keep them sharp and accurate. Now consider a complacent, clueless dog-loving family member/s and all bets are off. The dog will learn very quickly what works and what doesn’t work and you won’t like the outcome. Think long and hard about bringing another being into your life. It is an incredibly rewarding experience but an equally incredible responsibility.

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