Why Bother Training my Dog?
Hello everyone! That kind of seems like a weird question in itself, let alone the title of a blog post from a Dog Trainer/Behaviorist, but shockingly (or not), I get this question a lot from people. Some ask it in general conversations without knowing what I do for a living, and others ask during a consultation when we're discussing why their dog might be expressing negative behaviors.
At first, I thought the question was crazy. I mean, why wouldn't you want your dog trained? And honestly, sometimes it made me immediately question the integrity of the owner asking that question. I mean, did they not care about their dog? But that was a long time ago, and since becoming a professional in the field, I've realized that it's a set-up question - a general, vague question that comes quicker than the real thoughts behind it.
What I've come to realize is that people don't have an accurate understanding of what training does, and what a professional Trainer/Behaviorist does for a dog. I think most people hear "dog training" and picture someone with pockets full of treats baby-talking a puppy to do a trick until the puppy either does or doesn't, and regardless of success, the puppy gets a treat for being so darn cute. Or maybe they hear "dog training" and think of a super aggressive drill instructor type of person yelling commands at a dog until it's magically ready to be a police or army dog. Some may even think of a super strict trainer not letting the dog have a treat until it's up on his/her back legs begging correctly.
The truth is, none of these are how training is supposed to go at all! At least, that's not the ideology from most of the major Trainers and Behaviorists, and definitely not what we believe at Bandit's Buddies. The goal of training, whether it's puppy training basics or advanced training, is to implement a method of learning - a way for the dog to learn how to trust, respect and follow a leader, to learn how to coexist peacefully with others (both humans and other animals, and to establish a method for two-way communication. In a lot of ways, "dog training" is supposed to accomplish the same goals as early education for humans.
For a quick example, the goal of training is not simply to teach a dog "stay". After all, Bandit (pictured to the left) knows "stay". He knows "stay" very well. He also knows that he'll get positive reinforcement for obeying and a firm call to rethink his actions if he disobeys. But this doesn't explain why he's sitting there with the door wide open and nobody stopping him from running. What stops him is that he's been trained to know how to make the right decisions with keywords and practice. He's been given a method of learning.
Sure, Bandit also knows how to sit, lay down, roll over, stay, and other "tricks", but the tricks weren't the goal of his training. Tricks are used to make training fun, and teach a dog to seek positive reinforcement through making the right decisions. Bandit also knows how to stay, wait, leave/drop it, and stop, which are all more for his safety for when he wants to make a wrong decision.
Alright, so I've read this far. Is the whole point of this to brag about your own dog or to make people feel bad for their own somehow? After all, you asked a question to start this whole thing, and you haven't really addressed it...Not at all! But I am going to propose 5 ways that training can help dogs, and thus answer the question for anyone wondering why they should even bother with training or contacting a professional to help train their dog:
1) Training isn't tricks
As I said earlier, tricks are the fun part of training, but training isn't just teaching a dog tricks. The purpose of training is to teach a method of learning for dogs, just like school does for us. It's to teach a dog to think in a different way from how they normally would.
At Bandit's Buddies, we use positive reinforcement training paired with a keyword focus and hand motions so that they will think through what you want them to achieve through a command, and make the right decision on their own. That way, the training can be implemented across various different parts of life, because we've taught them HOW to learn, and not just WHAT to learn.
2) Training increases positive socialization and efficient communication
Unless you're planning on buying/adopting a dog and staying in your house for the next 1-15 years, without ever leaving for work, the store or a vacation, you're going to leave your dog at some point. Heaven forbid you decide to go on vacation and have to trust your dog with another person or a dog boarding facility with other dogs around them! Proper training will make it so this won't ever be a worry, because they'll have better socialization and communication skills from the training.
Again, the goal of training is teaching them to be able to make the right choices on their own, or with simple keywords/hand gestures. Training your dog properly will increase the odds that they'll be able to handle other people and other dogs without becoming scared or aggressive. Even if they start to show those tendencies, their training can kick in when they hear keywords, and they can think through what the right decision is on their own. A dog without training is severely less qualified to make those decisions properly, and that could result in an issue.
As Pet Palace, a pet boarding resort, puts it "As your dog learns to respect boundaries and behave properly in social situations, other dogs (and people) will be more comfortable around her as well. As a result, more of these interactions will be positive experiences for your dog". (Full article)
3) Training helps establish both order and a bond
Part of training is to establish yourself as a pack leader, and to facilitate a bond between you and your dog. Though this is an important part, and something a dog is programmed to discover with their pack in the wild, it's also a part of training that can go very wrong with the wrong mentality. To try to establish yourself as the "pack leader" in a way that is physically or psychologically driven is a dire mistake, and one that could take a LOT of counter-conditioning to correct. Trust us, we've seen it, so please think twice when trusting advice from someone who suggests a type of physical domination to show a dog "who's boss".
Training will establish the order and the bond, but the key is to do so in a positive way, so to avoid later aggressive behaviors, especially when introducing new dogs or people to the mix. This will build mutual respect and trust, and your dog will look up to you as more of a role model/parent instead of a fearful dictator.
An article done by Positively agrees that positive training is the key here. "Positive training, which rewards and motivates a dog for good behavior, allows you to foster a relationship with your dog based on mutual trust and respect instead of fear and intimidation" which can be "physically and psychologically damaging to your dog and dangerous for you". (Full Article). Long story short, a correct method of training will foster a positive bond between you and your dog, and start to form a healthy partnership bond between dog and owner.
4) Training helps their own safety
Using Bandit as another example (and not just to post another picture of his cute Shiba face), he knows plenty of "tricks", such as sit, lay down, roll over, etc. And yes, I know that picture makes it look like he might know know much...That aside, Bandit also knows a lot of behavioral cues, such as "drop it", "stop" and "stay". These are geared to help keep him safe at all times, especially in a dangerous situation, such as if he picks up something he doesn't know is poisonous. He also stops at the edge of a street and sits by default without me saying anything, because he's learned not to step in the street without permission. This is to keep him safe!!
That's part of the beauty of proper, positive dog training - With the use of keywords and hand gestures, you can control your dog even in potentially dangerous situations. You can know your dog will make the right decisions, even when an aggressive dog enters their space (which has happened!). You can also know that if they were to ever get loose, you can use their training and your keywords to help them make the proper decision and get back into a safe environment.
Heading back to Pet Palace's article, they write "The better you can control your dog with voice commands, the better you can protect her when unrestrained. A dog that bolts when off the leash is much more likely to run in front of a car, or to slip out the front door before you're ready to leave". (Full Article again).
5) To avoid the development of negative behaviors
This is one of the biggest by-products of proper training, because it applies to the present AND to the future. If you get a young puppy, of course you want early training to help them learn to stop going to the bathroom in the house and to not chew things they shouldn't, but the fact of the matter is that proper training will help them avoid gaining negative behaviors later on in life as well. Because they now have a system of determining the right and wrong action to take in many different situations through training, they will continue to use the practices to determine the right course of action throughout their entire life, as long as their training is continuously reinforced.
Some dogs will test the boundaries of what's right and wrong even if they know better. Trust me, I own a Shiba. But hey, people are the same way, and just like people, a lot of negativity can come from a lack of understanding and/or not investing the time to help them understand more at an early age. Usually a combination of the two, right? Same with dogs! So investing in them both early on and throughout their lives is just as important. A lot of dogs start to exhibit negative behaviors when they were trained early, but the training was never reinforced correctly at home when the trainer was no longer there. It's just like a child that will struggle with math or spelling when they don't practice outside of school when they're forced to.
Citing the Positively article once more, they say "Training your dog builds up a language of communication between you that promotes security and comfort. The more time you invest teaching your dog to live successfully in a human world, the more you will avoid problem behaviors that come from a lack of understanding." (Full Article again)
In a lot of ways, I understand why some people I talk to don't understand the full concept of how truly beneficial training is for a dog. Before I started pursuing this passion as my career, I wouldn't have fully understood either. Honestly, when I was younger, I thought of training as a way to teach dogs cute tricks, and not much more.
A lot of people think their dog might need some form of training, but they're willing to wait until something bad happens (usually not knowingly) before they actually act on it and contact a professional. If you think your dog could benefit from some of the positives listed in this article, at least contact a professional about training options. It's obligation free to have a conversation, and they can help you understand more about training. Many trainers I know and have worked with are more than willing to have that conversation for the sake of spreading knowledge instead of trying to trap you in some type of training plan commitment, I promise. It's way better than waiting and something bad happening that could've been avoided.
I can't tell you enough about how much of an impact proper dog training can have. Life is so much calmer knowing I won't have to worry about my dogs on walks, when meeting new people, while having company over or staying at someone else's house when I'm out of town.
Shameless Plug - Bandit's Buddies trainers not only wrote this article, but they practice what they type! We believe in serving our community through helping people learn more about dogs and dog behaviors as well as boosting the bond between pets and their owners through positive, keyword focused training. If you're in the Raleigh area and want to speak to a professional about personalized training, give us a call at (919) 961-5265 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to talk about what training can do to help you reach your behavior/bond-based goals with your beloved dog(s)!
And of course, thank you for reading! Please comment below to continue the conversation, or share this story with others you think it might help.