Family Dog Training 

(updated 2020)

I get many calls around the holidays for dog training. Los Angeles families adopt pets for the holidays when everyone is happy and hopeful. However, when a person gets a dog as a surprise for a loved one or when one family member does not want a dog or is not interested in being a part of the learning process, this can causes problems, tension and be the bane of a successful dog training program.

For example, when a family wants to have a child, most likely lengthy discussions have taken place about living situations, child-rearing, resources, education, schools, neighborhoods, doctors, and lots of planning goes into the process. Rarely do you hear a partner proclaim, “OK, you can have a child, but I am not participating in the child-rearing or teaching process. I just agree to have the child for you.” Most would understand how this would not work out well for a family. It will also not work out for a family if the same scenario was with the adoption or purchase of a dog.

Right off the bat, I hope people understand that adopting a pet is for life and requires the same considerate and thorough planning and discussion that would be involved with raising a child.

Many people 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. This abdication of responsibility, the training process, or time to understand a dog’s behavior will end up delaying, stopping a dog from learning, or worse will reinforce dog behavior that we don’t want.

Partners understandably want to make their significant other happy.  However, what they fail to realize is the disconnect between being a pet parent and the amount of time that ALL people living under the roof with the dog must dedicate to the dog training process.

Sabotage 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’s emotion, and/or practicing rewarding inappropriate dog behaviors.

This is why adopting and raising a dog must be addressed by the family in the same manner in which a very important decision of having and raising a child must be discussed. If detailed and thorough discussions are not had prior to getting a dog or puppy the person who does not want the dog may sabotage the dog’s training progress and behavior.

Dog Training Problems

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 dog behavior. Other than my father allowing our dog to come on the couch when he was watching television and sharing his cookies with them he was absent from dog training and didn’t care.

His selfishness and confusion 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 poor behavior.

Dog Training When Someone Doesn’t Care

Why must I practice? Can’t I just read a book, watch and cognitively understand?

Learning through osmosis doesn’t work. Imaging reading every book you could find on basketball and rarely practiced. Then you walked onto a basketball court with some great players. You wouldn’t have a clue.

A dog is a living, breathing, feeling, 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 (or much more) on the pet parents as it does on the dog.  Much like any sport, dog training involves not only detailed understanding by all family members but most importantly practice.

People tend to think that a dog trainer will come over and make their dog obedient. In this unregulated dog training industry, you might hear a trainer say that they are a dog whisperer or have a secret dog training formula that only they know. None of this is true.

After some reprogramming of the brain, and ensuring parents that there is no magic fairy pixy dust only trainers possess, I encourage families to think of the dog-human relationship, as a growing, bonding and learning process to learn how to understand one another and communicate effectively.

Think of learning to communicate with your dog through compassion and understanding, not through confrontation, bullying, and force.  Your trainer and behaviorist is your facilitator to help expertly guide you through this process, effectively, efficiently, and with compassion and clarity.

As with any relationship, communication is critical and takes work. To highlight this difficult task at hand, there are often miscommunications between people. Imagine how much practice it takes to communicate effectively with another species if we botch up our own so often. We can’t expect a dog or any other species to inherently understands what we want.

Understanding and communication are not innate to most people, and their dogs are not born ready to “understand” us, our language, or social mores any more than we understand elephants or their language. But more so than simply understanding, dog training takes practice and lots of it. Tens of thousands of iterations. Dog training also evolves as do all relationships through the cycles of life and is a process, not an event.  Training is not “done” once the trainer leaves your home. It has just begun.

Dog Training Names

A dog trainer is an easy and common label but is oftentimes inaccurate. A great dog trainer is a dog psychologist, ethologist, coach, facilitator, motivator, guide, communicator, teacher, problem solver, and instructor. If your certified dog behaviorist and trainer does not possess all of those qualities, I would find myself 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 to a compassionate, environmentally friendly, healthy vegan diet, and begin exercising several times a 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 working out.

A 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, be motivated, follow instructions, and actualize the training process. You’ll have to learn how to use the machines, equipment, methods, what to eat, and how and when exercise correctly before you become healthy, build your muscles, intellect, and stamina.

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

New Puppy Dog

Here are important things to buy before getting a new puppy.  Obviously, a dog is not a piece of equipment or inanimate object contrary to what our laws say. In addition, dogs are not interacting with just you all day. This is why your partner, kids, staff, cleaning lady, friends, etc. are so important to include in the learning and training process.

While a single person living by themselves may have a much easier time dog training because of the quantity variable, most pet parents have other people that are regularly interacting with their puppy.

Additionally, when you are with your dog, it may be easier to control limited interactions with others outside of your home, when their time with your dog is supervised and limited (strangers, doormen, mailperson). However, 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 or with pet professionals like, dog boarding, dog daycare, dog boot camp, and pet sitters, etc.

Enter Saboteur/s

Anyone who spends a lot of time with your dog needs to practice and understand what to do and most importantly to not encourage, reward, or reinforce inappropriate behavior. It is more important not to reinforce bad behavior than to forget to reward good behavior.

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 a much more difficult time learning and all of your relationships will suffer.

Dog steels other dogs hot dogs

The Inevitable

Imagine this for a moment, teaching and practicing with your dog diligently for months. Working on all problem dog behaviors such as, dog aggression, dog barking, puppy biting, potty training, separation anxiety, etc. 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 process comes home from work and practices everything with the dog that they were taught not to by their behaviorist.

You ask them to please stop doing this because you do not want your dog to practice these poor behaviors and they give you an irrelevant common reply, ” it’s ok, I like dogs”. The problem is that now your dog is most likely getting rewarded and reinforced for the behavior that you don’t want to teach them and now is on an intermittent schedule of reinforcement.

This poor behavior just became many times more difficult to extinguish now that your dog is on a variable-interval schedule which is a schedule of intermittent reinforcement in which reinforcements are contingent upon behavior.

When you speak to your partner or children who didn’t want to be a part of the training, they 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 poor behavior.

When dog training everyone who regularly interacts with the dog must be on board or the behavior modification and training process will take a very long time or won’t work at all.

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