If you don’t learn and practice the proper mental attitude during your dog training lessons, you will not get the most out of the lessons, nor will you be prepared to use the training in real life situations. Similarly, if you don’t help your dog to learn and practice with the proper mental attitude, your dog will not get the most out of the lessons, and will not be prepared to properly respond to real life situations. Dog training is a lot more than teaching Sit, Down, Come and Heel…
Your most important dog training tools are your mind and the mind of your dog. Before the first lesson begins, students don’t realize what I’m looking at, what I am prioritizing in the upcoming lessons for their dog. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say I am going to be working with a first time dog owner with a new puppy. One of the first things I’m watching and waiting for is that crossover point when the dog starts to be concerned about what the owner is wanting, and the owner starts being able to read their dog. In studies of chimpanzees, lower ranked members spend more time gazing at the higher ranked members of their troop, and troop leaders make good decisions about the direction of the group. Properly bonded and trained dogs also are attending to what their human masters are doing, saying, commanding and controlling. Very young pups often are very inward, more concerned about the twig on the ground, or the treat in your hand, or what the cat is doing. As time goes on, if we do things correctly, the puppy passes through to a stage where what the owner does matters. Some of this is as a result of maturity, some a result of the developing human/ dog bond, and the rest a result of the accidental or purposeful training the pup is receiving. Yes, it is important that the puppy isn’t pooping in the living room or peeing in the kitchen. Yes, we work on that, but more important is the development of the puppy into a family companion.
Some trainers try to force this on young puppies to do, or not do, a variety of behaviors. I can’t condone using heavy “dominance” handling, for example, on a puppy. But these trainers, in my opinion either out of ignorance or greed, will use pain compliance or intimidation to get these puppies to perform. However, making a puppy into a robot isn’t my preferred method, and I have seen these rough methods damage promising puppies. It isn’t natural or humane to abuse a pack member, and I’ve seen some puppies that were completely broken down by heavy handed trainers. Unsuspecting owners might find their puppies turn into a bowl of jelly, or a fearful and jumpy puppy, or submissively urinating, or running away when the leash comes out, not realizing until it is too late that something has seriously gone wrong. I think it is best instead to be patient and let the puppy learn what to do, and to do it in conjunction with normal biological maturity and bonding processes. Furthermore, the mindset of the owners is often that of being impatient for results, and letting their frustrations or timelines override good judgment.
Part of good training is the development of a positive attitude in the puppy and owner. A continuing pattern of mastering and maintaining a positive mental attitude needs to be taken seriously. If the puppy’s attitude isn’t monitored, then the trained adult dog will never be as reliable as s/he could have been. If the owner’s positive attitude isn’t properly and purposely mastered and maintained, the owner will mishandle or ruin their dog over time, or bungle a real life situation and someone, or some dog, gets injured or killed. That means you will have to learn to feel good about yourself and your dog in real world situations, where there is no escape and no margin for error.
You and your dog can’t display a proper mental attitude by chance. Instead, it will depend upon prior training, including real world experience. When you know you can handle a severe situation, you probably will be able to handle that situation. If you are unsure, which is usually a result of insufficient or poorly designed training, then your dog will pick up on that, and everything will shatter when it all counts.
You and your dog are much less likely to panic in a difficult situation if you have trained for that situation. What I mean when I say “trained” is not just that your dog will Sit for a treat in your living room. I mean good training has given you a happy, confident, stress free outlook, and enough situational awareness, and competent dog handling, that you have already “seen” this before, or something like it, to the point you can act appropriately. However, if you aren’t prepared, then the bad things can happen very quickly. Your dog runs into traffic, so does your child, and both end up dead. So, you have to come in with the mindset that you are going to get the most out of each lesson, and learn what all this is about and how to use it. Yes, good training might make you uncomfortable. Good training often isn’t comfortable at first, but over time it is comforting. You must become self reliant. Furthermore, we have to get your puppy to the point of a properly trained adult, fully socialized, fully trained, fully confident in its relationship with you and the world, in order to be ready for the real world. We also need to build happiness, confidence, and a low stress life for your dog so your dog is best prepared for an unknown future.
The first step, however, is to schedule the training and to get going. Wallowing in your misery, or letting a puppy develop into a mess, isn’t going to make your life easier. It isn’t right to give up on a dog, or to neglect its training. You have to decide to be trained and have a trained dog. You also have to open yourself up to being trained. I’ve seen some people who get angry during lessons, because they don’t like “being told” what to do in their own homes. That’s just a roadblock to success. A good trainer should teach, and a good student should get that chip off their shoulder. A good trainer is there to make you and your dog better, they aren’t there to “tell you what to do”. This isn’t some kind of chest bumping contest, and you’ll lose the good trainers if you follow that course for long. Every trainer, if they have been around long enough, has had students that want to joust with them rather than just doing the program. It’s no fun for anyone, and sometimes the trainers have to “fire” their students because of it. I see too many people every day and week to have time to fix everyone and to duel with them over this dog training concept vs another. I had one of these a few weeks ago, and it was all so silly. I could see he was starting to steam up during the lesson. What I had to say wasn’t anything confrontational, it’s just he didn’t like hearing instructions from someone else. His wife later apologized for her husband. She knew what had happened. I didn’t take the bait, however. I’m just there to do training, not that kind of thing. But, if he is going to get the most out of his money and time, he’s going to have to let himself drop that bad attitude and go at it again with the curiosity of a child, eagerness of a puppy, and humility of a good student. Otherwise, that dog’s problems aren’t going to go away, or they will give up on their dog, blaming the dog, instead of getting with the program. You have to be a good student in order to learn and to help your dog learn, and that will require you getting into consonance with your family, dog and trainer.
Another important factor is dealing with stress. Stress can either make you and your dog better, or it can break both of you down. The demands of training can make you cranky. Add in the stress of life, and possibly a dog with a lot of behavioral problems, and the training process can suffer. At first, the stress can alert you to the problem, and cause you to call me. That is a good kind of stress, because it gets you into problem solving mode. A bad kind of stress is letting the problem get away from you to the point that you either don’t deal with the issues, or you neglect them to the point of being a crisis. If the stress isn’t properly handled, your relationship with your dog will crash, or the training will crash, and then you are in even worse shape. There is an old saying that goes something like this: the best way to deal with a problem is to throw the person into cold water. Now, of course, I’m not going to toss you and your dog into the lake! But, what it does mean that you need to plunge into a good dog training program, and have some skin in the game, and be prepared to go through the training process. Schedule the lessons. Pay the money. Do the homework. Stay on track. See things through. Solutions relieve stress. Get to the end point. Don’t let the wear and tear of life break you. You aren’t going to get good results if you aren’t prepared to learn to cope and overcome. It is empowering to know that in most situations, we have the resources and power to master our world.
Another mental attitude is acceptance of the concept that training requires repetition. You need to train. You can’t just hear a lesson, and not continually practice that lesson, and expect it to work for you when you need it. I’ve had students that have paid the money, been given proper homework, know what to do… and then don’t practice what they’ve been taught and eventually forget what we did in the lessons. Guess how that works out for them. Dogs also need lots of repetitions. I think in terms of batches of a thousand. Have you done 1000 repetitions yet? A thousand scenario setups? Then you really aren’t training, you are just dabbling. You are superficial, and you are fooling yourself, not your trainer. You have to work up to a proficiency of a good mental attitude in order to be in that mindset during an emergency. We go over that, in some form, in all my programs. You can’t do this if you are in a panic and untrained. You will fail. Your dog will die. Sorry, but that’s the way life works. Life is like planting a seed, and nurturing that seed into a fruitful mature plant. Life is like investing. Life doesn’t work like a lottery, instead you have to invest and let that investment grow over time. Training is also like this. You have to grow that proper mental attitude during the training, and so does your dog. You have to take responsibility. No one is going to be there to rescue you and your dog during an emergency: you have to realize you are going to be your own first responder. I love seeing trained owners and dogs, confident, calm, happy. I call it “power steering”. You know it when you are there, you have turned all of this into something good.
Good dog training is mostly psychological. I have some friends and mentors, and we do this thing we call Philosophy Friday. We discuss the issues of life, primarily discussions about training and success. We are training a proper mental attitude. We’ve been doing this for years.
I could write an entire book on this topic. This is just part of this proper mental attitude concept. But, I hope you at least get the idea that there is more to dog training than just attending a class. I hope this has been helpful to you and your dog, because if you understand what I’m saying, you will have more success.