Dog Training Perfection

If I am your dog trainer, do I expect you and your dog to do things perfectly?

Cindy the Pit Bull
Cindy is a good example of need for patient training — exuberant and overly friendly with people, but reactive towards other dogs. It takes time and patience to turn these dogs around.

As I say over and over again, “advanced obedience is mastering the basics.” Here’s what I mean. I have a spreadsheet of almost all of the dog obedience exercises I teach, from beginning to advanced. That list has 211 separate exercises.

In addition, there are other things that are covered outside these exercises. For example, let’s start with putting on a collar. There are right ways of doing that and wrong ways of doing that. The goal isn’t just getting the collar on. Nope, no, no.

Why would I say that?

Last year, I worked with a 1 year old female Newfoundland that would grab your hand with her teeth if you tried to handle her collar, put on or take off a leash, or if you tried to pet her on the head. It was a serious problem. It started out by how the owners were told, by their veterinarian, on how to put on her collar. She started out as a wiggly and sensitive puppy. She was insecure about having someone restrain her while they put on her collar. The more she struggled to get away, the more force they used. This made her more and more defensive about having anyone handle her about her neck area. Adding to this, she was social, like a lot of Newfoundland puppies, so she would jump up on them. Once again, they’d grab her by the neck and try to hold her down. By the time I met them, she was almost impossible to be around. She jumped on your incessantly, barking at you if you ignored her, mouthing your hands and arms. It was a struggle to get a leash on her, and then when you finally did, she’d buck like a bronco, and once out the door would pull you like a freight train. You also couldn’t pet her without her becoming wild and uncontrollable. She desperately wanted the affection, but was also now very uncomfortable with getting affection. It was a mess.

This all started by not properly putting on her collar, and it got worse month after month.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this kind of problem. I had to work with them to unravel all of these behavioral problems. If they had mastered the proper way to put a collar on this dog, then all of the rest of these things could have been prevented. Advanced obedience is mastering the basics. You don’t want a dog that is uncomfortable with being handled because that gets in the way of everything else you are trying to teach.

Many puppies never have these issues. People who have no idea about this will say that they didn’t have these issues, it wouldn’t have happened to them. Maybe. Unless they got a puppy just like this one and didn’t do things properly.

Here’s another example. Last weekend, I overlapped two lessons. One student has a 8 month old male French bulldog. We’re more than half way through Basic Obedience. The other student has 6 month old mixed bred dog, looks like some kind of herding dog mix (but who knows, you’d have to do a genetic test). I had them work side by side with their dogs doing some basic Heel, Come, Sit/ Stay and Down/ Stay work. Then, the fun part, I had them switch dogs. Now, what was easy for them to do with their own dog wasn’t as easy with someone else’s dog. I explained if their technique was correct, then they should be able to get the same performance regardless of the dog they were working with. Both dogs were trained in the same way using the same exercises. The only difference was their handling techniques. By having them switch dogs, that revealed small errors they were making in their handling. By cleaning that up a bit, I then had them work their own dogs again. This time their dogs were even better than before because the information they were giving to their dogs was better. Everything you do with your dog is information. Give them the right information and they will do better. Give the dogs lower quality information, and the dogs will not do as well. Advanced obedience is mastering the basics, not only for the dog but for the handler.

So, what is perfection? I think perfection is giving perfect information to your dog every time, in the training, maintenance and real world handling of your dog. However, everyone makes mistakes, including myself. No one is perfect. I am still surprised with training programs which promise to have your dog well trained in 5 lessons, or some such guarantee. There is no way for a handler or dog to do advanced obedience, meaning reliable obedience in the real world, in so few lessons. It is impossible. Advanced obedience is mastering the basics, and that takes time and practice. Even if you and your dog can do well in an empty classroom, that doesn’t mean you are then ready to do all of that in a real world situation or emergency. Put on the pressure and you’ll freeze or overreact. If you are familiar with the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) cycle, you know that if you haven’t trained yourself to manage yourself and your dog to perform in real world situations, it isn’t going to work. Worse yet, it might mean a fatal disaster for you or your dog. Yes, it can be that serious. I’m going to purposely challenge your OODA Loop along the way so that you learn to make good decisions and provide accurate and properly intended information to your dog. The more you do this, the closer you’ll be to perfection when working with your dog. However, even if I gave you a fully trained dog, if you haven’t been part of the training, you’ll still blow it. There is also an OODA Loop running in your dog’s brain. It is impossible to expose a dog to all that is necessary in just 5 lessons. You know that and I know that, and anyone who says otherwise is either unaware of how poorly they are training you and your dog, or purposely misleading you and using your ignorance to make money off of your impatience.

Advance obedience is mastering the basics. I don’t think, however, you’ll ever get perfection. It all looks great in a book or video, but the applied aspects of training and real world obedience will have many uncontrollable and unexpected situations that can’t always be anticipated. Thus, we try to set up numerous challenges. I recommend that you think of the training more like doing martial arts. You start out as an apprentice, a white belt, in a classroom. Then earning each higher belt based upon skills (instead of the number of classes you attended) and simulating real world conflicts of increasing complexity. Mastery is recognized when you start getting your black belt, and then higher levels of black belt. The highest levels are only attained by those who have mastered all the small details along the way, both in technique and mental attitudes and discipline.

Few dog owners every go all the way to the top and do all of the exercises I teach. Most people don’t want or need that much in order to have an obedient and well mannered dog. However, the better a student masters each lesson, the more they will get out of each dollar and hour they spent, and the better their dogs will happily perform. That’s because Advanced obedience is mastering the basics. Got it?

Do I expect perfection? No. But we work towards that goal in a patient and fun pace.

Intro Video