Training your dog is not so much teaching your dog tricks as it is learning to speak the language that your dog understands, then having the ability to communicate with your dog about things that come naturally to them.
Canis familiaris is a common dog that has become domesticated over time. Canis lupus is the dog’s wild cousin, the wolf. Even though the dog is no longer wild like the wolf most of the behaviors still apply. These behaviors are innate and have succeeded in allowing the wolf to survive for the entirety of its existence on earth. Wolves and our sweet house pets all communicate by smell, sound, energy, body posture and eye contact.
Though your dog has feelings, it’s important to avoid anthropomorphizing their feelings as they are quite different. One of the most important things to a dog is the “pack”. Your household and your dog are its pack. In a pack there must be a pack leader. Your dog is very happy having you as their pack leader however if you are not going to be the pack leader then your dog will step up to get the job done because someone has to do it.
To have harmony within your pack and your home it is very important you are the pack leader and once you assume this role realize your dog’s feelings will no longer matter. It is all very black and white in a dog’s world; the pack leader gets to eat first, eats the best food and always walks in front unless the dog has permission to walk a head of you. The pack leader never gives any reward to the lesser pack member unless that pack member has done something to be rewarded for.
Your dog will constantly test you to see if you are serious about being the pack leader because this is extremely important to your dogs’ survival as they see it. As you establish pack leadership the dog will test you less and less. The main way your dog learns is by trial and error. Therefore a dogs memory is supreme. A dog never forgets.
This leads to consistency. You, as pack leader, must be consistent a fault. If, for example, your dog tries to get up on the bed with you and is allowed once out of 200 times then your dog will continually try to get up on the bed. They have learned that once out of 200 times they will be allowed to stay and to your dog those are pretty good odds and will keep them motivated to try and try and try. That is the hardest part in training your dog. Consistency!! If your dog learns that no matter how many times they try to get on the bed they will NEVER be allowed to stay then eventually that is a test they give up on. Dogs are very smart opportunists. If something doesn’t eventually pay off then that is a waste of energy and one to just avoid.
The other important thing to know is your dog will do anything to please the pack leader. A dog’s feelings do not get “hurt” if they are corrected. They want to be shown and to know “how to act”. If a dog puts its eyes down, tucks its tail, rolls onto their back and exposes their belly or even tinkles a little they are not saying “my feelings are hurt…..why are you so mean to me?” Instead they are saying “I respect you as the pack leader and I am going to show you I respect you by showing you how submissive I can be”.
Another example of miscommunication is when your jumps up on you. First of all this is undesirable behavior. The first ting you must do is correct your dog so that they will stop it, but more importantly you should know WHY they are jumping in the first place. If you have ever watched a video about wolves you will often see the entire pack go up to the pack leader and “nuzzle its muzzle” or lick the alpha wolf’s mouth. That is all your dog is trying to do when they jump so earnestly when you get home from work. So instead of punishing your dog for what he sees as a demonstration of respect, teach him instead to do it by your rules. Teach him to sit then wait for you to bend down to him before they “nuzzle your muzzle”.
The main goal in dog training is to teach YOU the dogs “language”, then teach YOU to teach your dog the rules of the pack and their role and acceptable behavior within the pack. In the long run your dog will be much happier because your world will make sense to him. Also this provides you with the best possible relationship you could possibly have with your dog.
Training is different for big dogs and little dogs and even though it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks , training an older dog is different than training a puppy. An aggressive dog is trained differently from a fearful dog. Each dog is unique as are people and “packs”. As a school teacher has to learn many different ways to teach many different “learners” a dog trainers job is no different.
As a trainer there is nothing more rewarding than seeing this creature with such a capacity for unconditional love learn how to be a better pack member to the one person that means more than anything to him in this world….you.