Anger Has No Place In Dog Training
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It’s important to be able to keep your cool and stay positive and clear headed when training or handling a dog.
I remember a Saturday morning intermediate level group class. I had a student working with his 1 year old Akita, a very nice dog but typically acting as Akita’s do when they don’t want to do something… bored, distracted, and trying to find something else to do. With this breed, you have to keep breaking the sessions down into short exercises, and then give the dog multiple break times to get their minds off of the things you’re trying to teach them. A one hour class is pretty long for an Akita, so you have to work around their propensity to be defiant and bored.
I had discussed this with the owner in advance. We had completed a number of private lessons at his home, and his dog had trained very well. A really nice dog, but… an Akita. We had also discussed the owner’s disposition and attitude about training. All along I had told him that his style was way too demanding and forceful, and that he had to tone it down. Instead of getting his dog motivated to do what he wanted, he would make the dog do everything, not letting the dog figure it out on her own, or giving her enough time to hear what he said and then do it. This often will turn a dog into being more defiant, in the form of passive resistance. And Akitas are masters at this game, becoming defiant, bratty and distracted the more you push them.
Contrast this with another Akita owner I was working with. She had a great relationship with her dog. She kept the dog engaged in the lessons, took the required breaks along the way, and did a number of motivational techniques I devised to work around her dog’s nature. And it just so happened that she was in class alongside this man that morning. Thus, when we were doing exercises, her dog looked fantastic, and his got worse and worse, and he got more and more rough with his dog.
At one point, I pulled him aside to remind him to go easier on his dog. I explained to him that he had an Akita, to focus on how his dog was doing, to watch how this other dog was doing, and to exercise patience and really work to improve his relationship with his dog. What the dog was supposed to be doing was less important to me than how he and his dog were getting along. I had him re-join the class and we proceeded. However, he didn’t do what I asked, and he started getting competitive with the student next to him, getting frustrated that his dog wasn’t doing as well as her dog. Then he got angry, and then he yanked hard on his dog’s tail when his dog wasn’t listening to him.
I then did something that I probably shouldn’t have done. I called him out in front of class and told him that we didn’t treat dogs like that in class, and that rough treatment like that can turn Akitas into biters. I embarrassed him. Was that wrong of me? I still wrestle with that today. He never showed up to class again, and he wouldn’t return phone calls. Then again, it wasn’t something that I could tolerate in my classes, and I couldn’t let that become something, if I didn’t speak up, which got repeated with other dogs. If I didn’t say anything, then would I in effect be teaching the other 15 people in class that it was OK to treat your dog roughly? I decided that speaking up in front of the group was necessary, and so I did it. People pay me to be honest, not to just make a paycheck by filling up classes. So, it was a matter of integrity.
Anger has no place in dog training. I have to counsel a number of customers every year about managing their attitudes when working with their dogs. Lashing out is foolish because it will set back the training, or cause other more serious behavioral problems. And it is bad for the owner, because they are more focusing on themselves than on getting the right results with their dogs.
I don’t use anger in training, and I have a very cool head; very patient and always looking at the long term. And I have a big toolbox of techniques, so if one isn’t working, then I have a backup plan. Good dog training makes you into a better person, and makes your dog a better dog. Good dog training means understanding the training process as it applies to your dog, it’s not forcing a dog to do something just because you want the dog to do it.