Friday, December 17, 2010

Why it's important to ask your trainer HOW

If you enter “dog training help” in to your powerful search engine of choice, the amount of websites promising to solve your problem are abundant. It’s enough to plunge you deep into the Internet vortex and if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself shopping for mittens on Amazon wondering, “How the hell did I get here???”
By the time you’re back on track, you realize there are more answers than you thought possible.
After querying “dog training help”, I found one trainer who offers the following advice for treating a leash-aggressive dog:
“Your dog needs to do what you tell it. Your commands need to be adhered to. The better your dog is at obeying your commands the less it’ll be distracted. An obedient dog will eliminate aggression.”

Oh brother. Here we go. There are so many things that irk me about this statement, but let me just pose the question every dog owner should ask about any recommended training:
“HOW?” More specifically, how does obedience eliminate aggression??
What exactly do you mean when you say “obedience”…
I prefer not to use the word often, although I use it to describe the classes I teach. (You know what? Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m probably going to change that).
Obedience sounds so…overbearing.
I don’t want a dog to be obedient, submissive, or compliant. That all sounds like something you do because you have to, not because you want to. It sounds too official, as if there is some quality assurance inspector making sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed and pink slips are given to anyone who doesn't meet the standards.
During my ten year stint in the military, obedience meant you had no other option – you were either obedient or else, and you definitely did NOT want the “or else”.
So, maybe that’s why it irks me. Because I’m not trying to communicate to my dog that they have to do something or else. I’m communicating to them “trust me! You’re going to want to do this!”
Umm, when does the obedience start to eliminate aggression??
Giving the benefit of the doubt to the author, perhaps they meant that if the dog is able to listen to your cues and your direction, the dog will be less likely to react aggressively towards the stimulus. Ohhhhh. Then why didn’t they just say that!? Because that’s totally different than “listen to me or else”.
Bottom Line
You know what eliminates aggression?? The dog does, not you, not obedience. The dog decides to stop aggressing. There is a moment (well, series of moments…many, many, counter-conditioning moments) when the dog decides “huh…This isn’t as bad as I thought it was…”
The dog’s trainer merely facilitates that a-ha moment.
They’re the one who teaches the dog that their engrained response (aggression) is not the answer, convincing them that aggression isn't necessary. War, folks, is not the answer.

Pop Quiz
HOW does obedience eliminate aggression? 
It doesn't.

Photos courtesy of: - Aggressive dog - Pop Quiz

1 comment:

  1. Most people find it very hard to challenge someone they feel is an authority figure. And sometimes all it takes to become an "expert" is sounding certain of yourself.

    Good reminder to "question authority."