Training Before You Need it – A Trainer’s Plea
All training is preventative and it all makes our dogs easier to live with and handle. Some of it is so important it can be lifesaving. Yet the statistics of how many owners actually get training is shamefully low. Most owners seem to believe it’s optional, only for bad dogs, or that it’s a last resort.
This could not be further from the truth. For the modern dog and owner training is a necessity. It’s time to normalize a higher level of care for our dogs.
The following are stories that I have accumulated over the last few years. Identifiers such as names, genders, and dog breeds have been changed, however the events have not been altered. I am sharing these stories with the hope that we can prevent owners and dogs from turning into statistics. All of these stories could have been prevented or mitigated with training intervention.
Skip the Dalmation
Skip’s was a young dog (10 months old) when his owners contacted me. He had been involved in a dog bite incident where he had grabbed and dragged a small child by their clothing. Thankfully there were no injuries, but his owners were terrified because this was not the only incident that Skip demonstrated his unpredictability. His size as well made him more and more difficult to handle, which meant that his life was becoming more limited since only one of his owners could physically control him.
Skip’s problems were rooted in a fundamental lack of impulse control, something that should have been taught to him as he grew, starting in puppyhood. Skip was not truly aggressive, however he did not know how to control the levels of excitement and frustration he felt from a life of being restrained, due to his lack of impulse control.
He was stuck in a vicious cycle that culminated in the bite incident to the child and completely wreaked his owner’s trust of him. His owners had originally purchased Skip to be their outdoors companion to take to the lake, have picnics with, and enjoy hikes with, but found themselves instead with a completely unmanageable dog on their hands.
Had Skip been taught how to settle around exciting situations, how to behave around other dogs, how to behave while on leash, the first bite incident very likely wouldn’t have happened at all. But he had no appropriate training and his owners were operating on hopes and assumptions that somehow he would get better.
They did not get training help and later I saw them begging for training help on a community page after more incidents had happened with Skip.
I will not pretend to have a crystal ball, however I can say that Skip’s potential, even after training and rehabilitation, has been damaged. He will never be the dog he could have been with earlier help. Training would have changed his story.
Bo the Great Pyrenees
Bo was a massive dog (adult) who had just been adopted by his owners. In the first month of being in his new home he had bit the husband multiple times, and the husband could no longer be around Bo for fear of being bitten. Due to his size, Bo was not able to be safely handled by the wife, and she struggled to be able to move him around the home and maintain safety for everyone.
His owners were essentially prisoners in their own home because of the song and dance they had to do just to move Bo out into the yard to potty. Additionally Bo wanted to chase cars on walks and he was powerful enough to pull his owners off their feet. Understandably Bo was no longer able to go on walks with them. Bo also would guard objects, menacingly growling at anyone who he thought was there to steal from him.
He was a terror inside and out of the home. The relationship between all parties was strained.
Bo’s owners were now faced with a very painful decision. He was not a bad dog. Despite his bites, despite his car chasing habit, despite his guarding tendencies, he was a lovable dog. The trouble was that now because of the bites Bo would be put down. His owners were essentially being forced to send him to be executed, and it was not their faults.
Bo did not start life out like this. It is likely that some of his habits landed him in the rescue in the first place (probably the car chasing), and his time in that environment potentially brought other things to the surface. Then he was rehomed and the bites condemned him to death. His owners now have to live with that knowledge and try to heal from the trauma of it.
He and his owners are all victims.
His breed (although it has been changed) is not one that is known to be predisposed to being car chasers. In fact it’s rare and in my opinion would be very unexpected. This alone tells me that there must have been something that was not right in the way he was trained/raised to result in such a strong habit in him. His is another case which I think could have ended differently if his Original owner sought help instead of rehoming.
Dogs like this are becoming more and more common in the shelter system.
Fred and the House of Dogs
Fred was an older man who contacted me about the chaos that had become his life. He had bred a litter of puppies, and had family members who told him they had wanted a puppy. So now Fred had three puppies (8 months old) plus his own dog, who were wreaking havoc on the home. The family members had fallen through, and the pups had no where to go.
Exactly zero of the four dogs were trained, and Fred spent most of his day cleaning up potty messes since none of the pups were potty trained. The dogs were all very stout and powerful dogs, and due to his age Fred was at a severe disadvantage. He could not walk the dogs together, as they were too powerful, and they would also get into fights with each other on leash.
Fred was essentially living in a home with three wild dogs that he couldn’t control, and one dog that was very hit or miss when it came to listening. Due to the leash walking problems none of the dogs were being properly exercised which was leading to tensions between all the dogs, and extremely destructive behaviors.
Fred didn’t know what to do and was very much in over his head. The messes and the sheer destructive force that these pent up dogs used against his home was stunning.
Training would have made this all a hell of a lot easier for Fred. The patterns of training for basic obedience are pretty standard, as are the ones for basic obedience. Once you know what to do, when to do it, and how, these skills can be used on ANY dogs. Even the most rudimentary modern training techniques could have helped ease Fred’s burdens with the dogs, although nothing changes the fact that four dogs are still a lot of work.
I do not know what happened to Fred, all I know is that the situation he found himself in was completely unsustainable and made impossible due to the lack of training the dogs had. Although I would love to believe that there was a happy ending and the puppies all eventually found homes, the odds are not in favor of powerful dogs who have no training.
Fred had good intentions. He did not mean to end up with three extra dogs, and was let down by his family members who told him they would be adopting a pup. His situation was complicated more because of his lack of knowledge.
While it is clear that it probably wasn’t the best plan, life has a way of screwing up even the best of our plans. Which is why gaining and using training knowledge is such a valuable tool for all dog owners. You don’t know what life is going to throw at you and the best anyone can do is prepare.
Training is Not a Magic Bullet
As much as I hate to say it, I do not have a wand that I can wave to cure all that ails dogs and owners who are having issues. Change can always be made, and we can always make things better, but there are limits. One of the biggest limiting factors is timing.
Training a puppy with behaviors that haven’t been strongly ingrained yet is very very different than training an adult dog who has had years of habits building up. There is still a lot of change that can be made, a lot of progress for the better, but the fact remains that there are different limits.
It is always best to get help with training the first time you start seeing problem behaviors, or the first time you realize you don’t really know what to do in a situation with your dog. Living with your dog should not feel like a battle or a struggle. You should not have to be making excuses for their behavior or limiting your life (or theirs) because of behavior issues or a lack of skills. Those are glaring signs that it’s time for help!
The good news is that modern training is changing in ways that make it easier to learn, practice, and perfect your skill of dog training. Times are evolving and so are training programs! I am thrilled to be able to offer programs that are immersive and supportive to owners, and actually teach you how to train in a way that you’ll be able to use on all of your dogs for the rest of your life.
Reach out to me! I would love to hear from you and help you with your dog. I’m just a call or email away!