Does ‘training’ really resolve unwanted behaviour?

The dog I went to yesterday persistently jumped at me as I sat at the table. The lady and gentleman were finding it near-impossible not to intervene.

Is traditional training – using ‘commands’ – actually doing no more than getting the dog to respond by doing a trick upon request?

Is it actually teaching the dog anything more than obeying a cue?

jumping upFor instance, when we have a guest and our excited dog jumps up, we tell him ‘Off’ or Get Down’.

He obeys. Briefly.

Then we have to tell him again.

Have we actually taught him anything? No!

What happens if we’re not there?

All we have taught him is to do what he’s told, when he’s told. We’ve not actually taught him not to jump on visitors another time.

In fact, we have probably taught him that the only time he doesn’t jump on visitors is when he’s is told ‘Sit’ or ‘Get Down’! At other times jumping on visitors is okay then?

On walks with our reactive dog, we approach a person or another dog. We hold onto him and constantly remind him to look at us. We use distraction and physical control.

Are we actually teaching him to look away from other dogs? No! What happens if we don’t hold onto him and say ‘Look at Me’?

The trouble with a command/cue and control where changing behaviour is concerned is that it usually works only in the moment.

If the dog finds the behaviour we DO want sufficiently rewarding and clear, he should then eventually do these things of his own bat.

So, when a friend comes to the house, instead of jumping all over them (they will have been primed not to excite him), he will perhaps fetch a toy. If he is taught good things happen only if he’s sitting or if he goes to a certain place, then he will offer the behaviour without being told. Every time.

If on a walk he’s taught to see a dog and then to look away – from a comfortable distance – as this brings him the best rewards, then he will learn to do this without being held tight and controlled every time.

Sometimes ‘training’ in terms of cue words/’commands’ can work against what we actually want to achieve, can’t it.

Keeping quiet can sometimes work a whole lot better while the dog figures out for himself what works best.

It’s our job to make the behaviour we want to be the behaviour that works best. Every time. Not just when we can be bothered!

In addition to teaching cue words, that is what modern training is really all about. Training and behaviour are inseparable.

Yesterday’s dog eventually got the message. Good things, from me, happened when his feet were on the floor. Soon he wouldn’t even have to be reminded.

For my main website, please go to www.dogidog.co.uk
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About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist (INTODogs - ICAN Companion Animal Behaviourist) and trainer covering Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks, a 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site: www.dogidog.co.uk
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