Megan’s Musings: What is Success in Training?

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Training a dog is a responsibility, not a choice. But what is a trained dog? How do we define success? Success can mean different things for many different people. The goals we have set for our dog may be unfair or unrealistic. When starting any training program it is important that you have fair expectations for your dog. This is what will make your training successful and allow you to obtain the best results. By expecting too much, you risk causing unnecessary stress and confusion for your dog. In this post, I will share ways to ensure your goals help you to get the most from your training.

The first step is to identify what you would ultimately like to see from your dog. Do you want them to be social with dogs and people? Or well-mannered enough to go to a variety of places with you? Perhaps you have a shy dog that that is uncomfortable with people and new situations that you’d like to help feel safe and happy? Or maybe your dog gets upset when he sees other dogs and you want him to be social enough to go off leash?

When determining your training goals, ensure they are realistic for your dog. Proper behaviour modification under the supervision of a certified and experienced trainer can accomplish great things, but at times our expectations for our dogs are too high. For example, you dream of your dog going off leash and enjoying other dogs, but it could be something that your dog may always find too stressful and scary. Or perhaps your dog who is nervous around new people will never be a therapy dog who visits hospitals. It is important that our goals match the dogs we currently have and not our own personal desires.

The other side to this is that sometimes we let our own fears, stress or emotions impede the progress for our dogs. It may be that our own emotions overcome us and cause unnecessary stress in the dogs. Or many people worry about putting any stress on their dog, so they do not work them through their fears. By letting our own emotions take over, or by not applying small amounts of stress to our dogs under the supervision of a certified and reward based trainer, we risk trapping our dogs in a life full of fear. Yes, it may be nerve-wracking for them to meet strangers at first, but if we set this up properly, we can actually help them overcome their fears versus just managing them and avoiding the scary items. Choosing to not let a dog work through their stress and keeping them locked up in a house and ‘protected’ from the world is unfair. They will have to face scary items in their lives, so it is best to start preparing them for this and helping them through it.

We may also label our dog stubborn, stupid or dominant and assume that because of this they are untrainable, so we give up before we even start. These terms just indicate that we are not breaking the training down into attainable steps and are either expecting too much from the dogs, or not spending the time to train them. If you are frustrated with your dog, step back and set smaller goals, or seek the advice of a trainer to help you troubleshoot how to accomplish them.

By creating unrealistic goals for our dogs, we also risk pushing our dogs too far. This can happen with even the most basic skills. For example, your dog is just learning recall and you take them to the off leash park and get upset when they do not come when called while they are in the midst of playing with other dogs. Read our post on The dogma of Distraction Training to learn more about how to train with distractions. When defining goals for our dogs, we must be sure they are broken down into manageable steps. If your dog is struggling to learn a new skill, it is because we have made the skill too difficult, not because they are being stubborn or choosing not to listen. Be sure to break all of your training goals down into small measurable steps. This allows you to track progress and be able to quickly identify when you have expected too much from your dog. It also provides more immediate rewards and successes, which will motivate you both to continue to the training!

Training a dog can be challenging if you do not develop the correct training program for your dog. However, once you learn to create goals that align with the dog you live with, you will begin to see immediate success and you will both enjoy the training even more.

Remember:
1. Define your training goals
2. Review the goals to ensure they are realistic for your dog
3. If your dog is struggling, you need to break down the steps as you are expecting too much from them
4. Work with a certified, reward-based trainer to help you set/achieve your training goals
5. Have fun!

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