Why Do Dog Owners Struggle?
This is the eternal question that’s always on my mind as a dog trainer. Why do dog owners struggle? What causes even experienced dog owners to get stuck with their pups?
The good news is that I’ve narrowed it down to two main categories. The bad news is that there is little I can do about either of them on my own, and only with the help of struggling dog owners can we solve this!
What is the Problem?
Boiled down, it all has to do with Skills, and Knowledge. Most dog owners have a pretty good handle on basic parts of both these categories, but that can only ever net basic results.
A good analogy for this is cooking. I cook the majority of my days, most days more than one meal, and I do enjoy variety, so it’s not as if I’m cooking the same things day in and day out. So why is my cooking average and not at the same level as say Gordon Ramsay? Granted there is an age difference, but I’d be willing to bet that even at my age Gordon’s cooking was still on a whole different level than mine. (He was already working with Michelin star chefs in his 20’s btw)
The exact same thing applies to dog owners, even the experienced ones who have had multiple dogs in their lives! Growing up with dogs, working as a foster, or directly volunteering at a rescue will give you fluency in basic skills and knowledge, but it is no where near enough what it takes to train up a dog completely or rehabilitate a dog with behavior issues.
Simply put, there are holes in the knowledge and the skillset is not complete!
The bigger problem is that despite this, many dogs owners labor under the assumption that they should be doing better, that they should know what to do in every given situation (even with challenging dogs) and when things go wrong or not according to plan, there is a lot of pain, blame, guilt, and shame. Owners put so much pressure on themselves and sometimes I feel that the world at large does as well.
I have talked with many dog owners who tell me something along the lines of “I really messed up my dog” “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do” “I’ve tried to do everything right!” and I hear them placing so much of the burden on themselves, with little to no regard to the fact that they’re doing the best they can, they’re just limited by the skills and knowledge they have had.
I firmly believe that all dog owners are doing the best they can and there is zero shame in that, just like there is zero shame in asking for help!
Filling the Gap
This is where trainers come into play. My whole job is helping teach owners about their dogs, giving them understanding about the underlying causes of unwanted behavior, and of course helping them change these behaviors as well as prevent them! As a team we’re able to reach a point where owners don’t need me anymore (Yay!!) because they are drawing on the knowledge and skills they have learned during their time with me.
Dog training isn’t effective in my experience if it’s just a couple classes, like some private lessons or group classes. Sure I can teach you one or two exercises to help a problem, and that might be enough to curb a single issue or put you on the right track. But what it doesn’t do it prevent future issues. One or two exercises simply can’t give you enough skill or knowledge to have a smooth lifetime with your dog. For this you need a deeper understanding.
This takes dedication and commitment, it’s a team effort for both of us! We have to work together to reach the goal each playing our part. The right knowledge and skills makes all the difference.
Frustratingly, the old adage about leading a horse to water comes into play as well. I can try to teach until I’m blue in the face, but truly I don’t actually have control over what any individual with or won’t do. This is ultimately one of the factors that decides how successful any single dog and handler team will be. If the work isn’t put in, change can’t happen!
My goal with every student I work with is to educate to the point where they are confident in their abilities with their dog and also understand why they are getting certain outcomes and what to do about it. It’s like the difference between teaching someone the alphabet or how to write. I want my students writing without me and continuing to grow with their dogs as a team.
All of my courses are built with this in mind, and I would have it no other way. What’s the point of temporary change after all?
With the right skills and knowledge built up, success can be within anyone’s grasp when it comes to their dog. After all, we trainers started out just like every dog owner out there! Knowing little, but with a burning passion for our dogs and a hunger for answers. How far you go with that is up to you!