Dog Training with Hope

Training with hope

Dog training with hope is a sentiment I hear a lot.

“I hope this is just a phase…”

“I hope he grows out of it…”

“I hope doggy daycare/playdates/more exposure will help.”

“I hope this new leash/collar/gadget will help.”

“We hoped that it would go away, but….”

I’m not saying that there isn’t a time and place for hope, it’s just that where dog training and behavior are concerned, these things are rooted in science. 

We know that socialization should be done before vaccination is completed. We know that earlier training is better. We know that punishment based methods don’t produce the best results

I hate to break it to you, but hope is not what creates behaviorally sound dogs, nor does it prevent or treat behavior problems. If you’re relying on something you hope will work, that’s a red flag that you should be trying methods that are tried and true instead. Training with hope will lead to disappointment. 

Hope is a Coping Mechanism

To clarify, I really am not meaning to suggest that hope is a bad thing. It’s good to be hopeful. It’s good to want things to happen in your favor and want to be closer to your goals with your dog. At the same time it’s smart to hedge your bets. Training with hope smacks of unsureness or a need for blind faith. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. What else is training besides one big preparation for the life you want with your dog?

Training is black and white. Either a method works, or it doesn’t. We can measure changes. How many times was a dog successful? Was it more than last time? What variables is the dog struggling with? How long did something take the dog? We can quantify each step of the process and clearly find patterns, see how the dog is reacting to the methods used, and act accordingly to get closer and closer to the goal we want. Hope is not involved in training. Trial and error and science are. 

Hope in training I think is a method of coping. When you don’t have the answers and don’t know what to do next, you hope for the best. When you feel powerless, you hope for change, or hope for better circumstances. When you’re overwhelmed…hope. 

The unfortunate reality is that hope is a very slippery slope in training. 

We hoped things would get better, so we put training off. 

We hoped that this new tool would solve our problems easily, so we put training off. 

We hoped that the problem wouldn’t need intervention. 

The list can go on into infinity with reasons paved with hope and good intentions. The fact is though that this road doesn’t get you to your goals and in many cases might make things worse!

Behavior is a Symptom, not the Problem

Regardless of what kinds of things you’re facing with your dog, from simple issues in the home to more complex problems out in the world, they are all symptoms that are caused by underlying factors. 

Think of it this way. You have a cold. Treating the runny nose and sore throat might make you feel better, but it’s not addressing the root cause and if treatment of the symptoms stops, those annoyances will come right back and you’ll be suffering through them at square one again.

A common behavior we see in puppies like this is the nipping of humans. Puppies come straight out of the litter with extremely limited knowledge of the world and how humans expect them to behave. I mean how much can you learn in 8 weeks time, especially when you’ve only been in one area your whole life? 

Puppies arrive in their new homes relatively wild. They don’t know how to communicate with their new owners, but do know how they communicated with their littermates, and so they try that. Pretty much if you want to play with a sibling, you nip them! Once you’ve gotten their attention, maybe you bark, scamper around, or go in to nip again. This is not how you get a human to interact, nor how humans want to interact!

Who has told the puppy this though? Thus the first misunderstanding and point of literal conflict happens between pup and owner. It’s not fun for everyone involved and you are left with frustration on both sides. Puppies often try to escalate, because why wouldn’t they, this has worked for them for their entire lives. The humans as well might escalate, and this can backfire spectacularly. Training with hope is in full swing. 

The puppy desires play, that is what they are trying to get, and given that outlet the nipping of the people stops. Teaching your puppy when it is appropriate to play, how to start a game that doesn’t involve nipping, teaching them what is ok to bite, these are all invaluable when it comes to saving your hands, pant legs, shoe laces, and sweater sleeves. Fulfilling the problem of the lack of play, removes the symptom of nipping. 

Dog training as a whole is full of these little examples and times when simple changes to routine or lifestyle would solve the symptomatic behavior issues, but when you’re training with hope, often you’re stymied and don’t end up making real progress. Instead of lasting changes, often there are behaviors you must constantly police or correct. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the kind of experience I want to have with my dogs. 

Instead of training with hope and going it alone, do something about the problem and get in touch with a trainer that uses humane methods grounded in science. Getting help doesn’t mean you’ve failed at all, you’re instead getting a more rounded out training education and practicing modern skills. Don’t let yourself get stuck in the stone age!

Every Journey Begins with a Single Step

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