Why do students hire a good dog trainer, not do the required homework, and then opt for a solution that is worse for the dog than what they were doing before hiring anyone? I have puzzled on this for a long time. The dog needs help, the dog lives with the owner, the owner is ultimately going to be the greatest influence on the outcome, but the owner opts to not do the homework. And there is the excuse that it wasn’t working, when they will also admit they didn’t do any of the homework or buy any of the suggested equipment, toys, treats, or other tools. So they opt for a harsh solution instead. Hmm…
I brought this topic up for discussion with a friend in the sports fitness training world. He said he wanted to think about it for a while. His answer? He suggested that the students aren’t mentally prepared to do the homework. Now, I’m puzzling on this to see what I might do differently.
I am very confident in my knowledge of pet dog behavior solutions. I’ve spent countless hours, considerable effort, and a lot of money to get to where I am today. I have developed a ton of effective, force free, innovative, and I think often unique solutions to most dog behavior problems. My focus has always been, first, to figure out why dogs do the things they do. From there, then to find the least restrictive, most motivating, least stressful, easiest to understand method to make good and lasting changes. In other words, I don’t do what the other guy probably is going to do, since a lot of dog training advice many trainers give is based upon folklore or some idea they heard from some book or TV show. Similarly, most people have no idea how to diagnose what is really driving their dogs to misbehave, or to not listen, and already have preconceived ideas of what they think dog training should look like.
The clash between what is a behaviorally sound program versus what people think they should be doing is probably playing a part in all this uncompleted homework. I’m assigning homework that I know works, but it doesn’t fit what they think homework should look like. So, for example, too many students have seen TV dog training shows, where a harsh solution fixes the dog in 30 minutes, including TV commercial breaks to sell them some kind of pharmaceutical drug to cure their ailing back, psoriasis or something else. What I see in those shows, and what they see in those shows, are not equivalent. I see dogs that are being misdiagnosed, and then intimidated, using solutions that won’t work in the long run, and are not good for the dogs or owners. What they see is the dog temporarily stopping whatever seemed to be going on… and it was on TV… so it must be right.
Let me give you another example, but in this case the owner appears to have made the decision to do what’s right. This was from a very recent lesson. I worked with a small, year old, very happy and social male Yorkie. He only wants to sit in your lap and give you kisses or play with you. When he lays next to you, he wants to have a paw touching you. Just a super sweet and gentle dog. The owner hired me because he has house training problems. She had hired 2 other trainers, and nothing so far had worked. I unraveled what was going on, gave her a great program, and assigned appropriate homework with the option of free follow up. I also asked her what the other trainers had done and recommended. I didn’t want her to keep doing bad stuff that didn’t work. One guy recommended if the dog had an accident in the house to take her dog over to it, scold the dog, spray it with those compressed air cans, then put it in a bedroom or other room alone for an hour. I told her that was absurd and inhumane, and I can’t believe that anybody that calls themselves a professional would suggest such a thing. There’s the competition. That’s the kind of stuff that a lot of people are expecting, however. Something hard, something to prove they are “the leader”. All that garbage had nothing to do with why her dog was still pooping and peeing in the house. I believe she heard what I had to say and will follow through on the homework. I’ve let her know that she doesn’t need to do any more dog trainer shopping, the follow up is free and if she’s running into roadblocks, to let me know.
When new students are expecting a strident, cold answer, and I give them something smoother and softer, for a handful of people, that cramps their brains. I think when owners are getting frustrated and angry with their dogs, they are wanting a way to vent that on the dog, and that interferes with hearing a new positive approach. And when they aren’t being assigned a quick fix, like that 30-minute TV show, they aren’t prepared to hear or do the necessary new things, diligently, daily until the new behaviors take root. In other words, I think my friend is correct: they aren’t mentally prepared to do the homework.
Lastly, doing the homework matters. This is an ongoing conversation with my friend. He said he’s seen people go work with other physical fitness and rehabilitation methods and eventually come back in even worse shape. He doesn’t like seeing them seek out unnecessary surgeries, harsh training programs that make old injuries worse, use performance enhancing chemicals, or training approaches which are notorious for causing significant injuries. Like me, he doesn’t get in a big debate with anyone over this or that approach. We are both of the mind of making sound, reasoned explanations of what our education and experience suggest, and then letting people take their own course, without interfering. Sometimes a few of his students come back, sometimes they don’t. In his business some of these athletes get so messed up trying all types of old or newfangled solutions that it ends their professional careers. In my world, when the owners don’t go ahead and do their assigned homework, some of these dogs end up being given to a shelter, and in a few cases, even put down. In almost all cases, this doesn’t have to be the result, so long as there is follow through. Owners need to think this out and mentally prepare to have an open mind and to change what they do with their dogs so their dogs can change for the better. In other words, getting good results will start with becoming mentally prepared to do the homework… just as my friend suggested.