Monday, June 26, 2006

Trade Secrets



pssst


Hey, you. Yeah you. The one with the dog.

(And you, the one thinking about getting a dog. You should pay attention to this too.)

Have you ever wanted to know why your dog behaves better with his trainer than with you? Do you ever wonder why, when the instructor asks if she can use your pup to demonstrate a particular command, little Rover trots happily along, never pulling, paying close attention and executes said command flawlessly? Does it ever chap your ass to see your pound pup or expensive pedigree pooch - we'll call him "College Fund" - plop his butt on the floor the first time the instructor says sit? Especially since you've been trying to teach him how to do that for a week with mixed results. Okay, not mixed exactly. Try no results. None. Do you ever look at your dog and then at the trainer and say "What magic did you perform on my precious Muffy?"

Would you like to know the secret?

At great expense to my reputation and my membership in the mystical society of canine educators I will share with you the Secrets of a Dog Trainer.

(I don't know why, but I feel like there should be some music here. Like the music sting from "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?".)

Ready?

THERE ARE NO SECRETS!!!

We smell like cheese, hot dogs and liver. We smile at the dog and use happy voices and lots of praise. We talk to the dog in even tones about nothing in particular, the weather perhaps. But when the time comes to get down to business we are direct and to the point. We say what we mean and mean what we say. And we smell like hot dogs. I cannot stress that enough. That's it. And we're more than willing to share these tips with you. That's what we get paid for.

Hope I didn't disappoint too many of you.

I get a little frustrated from time to time with the dog owners who attend my classes. I will stand in front of 8 or 9 of them, all with wiggling dogs straining on their leashes, week after week and tell them clearly and succinctly that this (demonstrating command with my own wonderfully - cough - trained - cough - dog) is what you should do to get your dog to _______ (insert command here - sit, down, stay, come to me now right now and stop rolling in that dead chipmunk carcass!). I will show them step by painfully small step how to go from a) dog nearly choking itself to get to the dog next to him, to b) dog sitting nicely next to owner and waiting for their tasty treat.

And I will stress over and over that what ever command they are teaching their dog should be said once and only once and not repeated over and over again in rapid succession. And what do I hear once I've showed them a few times what to do, step by step?

"Sit! Sitsitsitsitsit! SIT! Doggie, sit! C'mon sit. Come! Come here. Why won't you sit? No! Down! Stop jumping on me. Down! Off! Stay away! Okay, good dog. Now, sit. No! Down! Sit! Stupid dog, SIT!!!!"

I don't know about the dog, but I have no idea what those particular owners are trying to get their dog to do. Sit? Down? Come? My head is spinning at that point. Maybe I didn't make myself clear, something must have gotten lost in translation.

So I go over to one owner and ask if I can demonstrate the command again, this time with their puppy. "Oh, please!" they'll say. "I think she's untrainable. See what you can do with her." And then they give me that knowing look. The one that says "Good luck. You and I both know this dog is untrainable."

Before their very eyes I will wave my invisible magic doggie training wand (in the form of a small piece of liver, a tighter leash, and a direct command "sit") and to their astonishment get that untrainable puppy to put it's butt on the floor. The first time I ask. And then again and again. Wow. Some magic. When I give the pooch back to it's owner, the hapless woman (or man, but sadly its usually a woman) will make some remark about how amazing that was and could I continue to train their dog.

Uh, lady, that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to teach you and your dog how to do this. Its not rocket science, its basic dog training 101. Tay appention, Panky.

In two weeks my classes will be starting again. Everyone has taken the spring to get their new puppies or shelter dogs to save themselves the trouble of housebreaking in foul weather. That means I've got at least a month of bad training to undo. Well, not bad exactly, more like incorrect. These people have the best intentions and want to do right by their new furry charges. But after the first night of class I will go home, tired and spent and covered with dog hair and drool, and sit on my couch with my head in my hands and my husband will ask me why I still do this if it bothers me so much that not everyone listens. Not everyone is as committed to training their dog as I am.

That's not the point, I'll say, I love what I do. And if I can reach these people and help them teach their animals the correct way to leave some of their canine instincts behind and live peacefully with a family then I can save them some heartbreak when their puppies grow up into dogs and become too big and unruly for them to handle. Their failures are my failures. If I can't reach them then what will happen to their dogs?

That's the real secret. Dog trainers can predict with some accuracy which dogs will be relinquished to pounds and shelters. And that's what we're trying to stop from happening. We're trying to keep those dogs from being passed from one concrete kennel to another. The magic does not lie in the commands themselves, it lies in the connection that an owner makes with their dog, when the two of you are working together. When there's no push or pull. When your dog knows what you want from them because its been made clear from the beginning. The walls of confusion come down and you're both speaking the same language.

And the look between the two of you speaks volumes and you can never imagine life without them. That's magic.


________________________________________________________________

This post in no way reflects my feelings about anyone who has reached out to me through my blog for advice on how to handle their dog. Its the culmination of a few years of classes and the hundreds of dog owners I have met and counseled. I enjoy helping dog owners and will continue to do it, regardless of my occasional frustration.

36 comments:

Motherhood Uncensored said...

HAHA. You crack me up. I imagine it's pretty painful.

I just scream at our dogs and it seems to work pretty well.

:)

radioactive girl said...

We had a dog when we first got married. She actually WAS untrainable. The trainer tried and tried and never could get her to do anything. We think she had some sort of mental defect, but still loved her to pieces. Until she tried to bite my baby. Then we gave her away. I will never own another dog because I just don't have the patience for it. Also my son has asthma and is allergic (says his allergist) and my two daughters are terrified of dogs, but mostly because I just wouldn't have the patience. Patience with children, yes, absolutely, but not with animals.

Elizabeth said...

Belinda from Ninja Poodles told me the same thing when we took in my mother in law's dog-that if you say "sit sit sit SIT", the dog learns to sit when you've said it four times!

If you're in the advice-giving mood, what about barking? I know he's just reacting to his instincts to protect us and the house, but our dog barks all the time at everything. He barks at people walking by on the sidewalk, cars driving by, if one of us bumps against the kitchen table. And when one of the boys' friends knocks on the door, he not only barks but rushes to the door and stands between us and the little playmate. Any suggestions? P.S. he's a collie/spaniel mix

Pattie said...

We had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever for ten years. We had to put him to sleep in September *sniff*
Anyway, we got him at a breeder who gave us this great piece of advice:
"You get what you train for."

We never took him to an obedience class, but we bought a few books and followed the advice. It made sense. We had a wonderfully trained dog. But we worked damn hard at it and gave him lots of love....come to think of it, maybe I smelled like food, too... hmmm...

Mommy off the Record said...

OK, I never thought that a post on DOGS of all things would make me cry, but this one almost did.

See, we have totally failed when it comes to training our dog and now I am scared to have our dog around our baby. And recently, the thought entered my mind that maybe we should give her away. Both for her and for us. She deserves better than to be left outside all day and we need a dog we feel safe around. I won't go into it anymore here, but I'm pretty sad about the situation. I'm 98% sure we're gonna keep her, but she's just not the family pet I had envisioned. I'm sure we only have ourselves to blame.

OK, I'm going to go out and buy some hot dogs now.

Binky said...

Our pit bull was rescued from the fence she was tied to when her family upped and moved away on her. She was about a year old when we got her from the group that rescued her. I took her to obedience school and, though I take no credit for this whatsoever, she is some kinda well behaved dog. It seems she was already familiar with all the commands. I constantly marvel at a family that would train her so well but leave her attached to a fence in the winter. Although maybe the good training came from the few months she spent with a wonderful foster family and two other pit bulls after the desertion. At any rate, she is the best dog we could have possibly discovered. You are absolutely right--it's magic.

Mrs. Chicky said...

MU - I had no idea you had dogs. None at all.

Radioactive - I completely believe you had a dog like that because I have a dog who is fairly similar. There's something not screwed in correctly in her brain.

Elizabeth - Ooh, barking. Yeah. That's a tough one. I'll email you.

Domesticator - So sorry to hear about your pooch. I love Chessies.

MotR - I'll email you on that one.

Binky - It kills me when I hear stories like that. But I'm glad you and your dog found each other. Its truly a profound bound that doesn't come along every day.

something blue said...

My husband has always had dogs and sometimes I think he might be trying to train our girls. The sit, no speak, reward with treats is just not working out for him.

J's Mommy said...

Interesting! I wonder if the same can be said for a toddler.

mothergoosemouse said...

Thank you. I think your closing points are the most important - how to keep owners and pets happy and together.

When we get a dog, it will most likely be a rescue, and if it hasn't already been trained properly, we will go to classes.

Heather said...

Hah how do you get a borzoi to bark? Ours only ever do it when playing with each other or if we've left one outside to pee too long, and even then only occasionally and only once (well once, when one of them scared himself by walking into a fire hydrant, he barked out of anger like "dude you can't jump out at me like that! at the poor, hapless firehydrant). They certainly sound mean when the bark, they just never do it (odd, I know). I kinda wish they were more protective of us - I'm sure that if I was being raped and murdered upstairs they'd be asking the guy for cookies on his way out instead of coming to my rescue.

I'm also convinced some dog breeds (aka ours) don't really feel the same desire to please their owners than others. Our guys

We're still working on training them - they're pretty good, but definitely need (and deserve) more work from us.

Heather said...

oops sorry for the trailing sentence.... Our guys don't really have the inclination to please as much as other dogs it seems.

Gina said...

I admire your committment to keep on keeping on! I might be a dog person if I met your dogs.

Lisa said...

We had a wonderful trainer named Karen. When we take our pup to PetSmart she STILL goes spastic thinking Karen will be there!

This was a great post.

Kristin said...

I gave up long ago... I just let them run the house and throw food at them 2x a day.

Please, I am getting a bigger car because I don't think my dogs have enough room... I am pathetic, but they have at least trained ME well.

MIM said...

Hmmmm. This sounds similar to teaching parents how to talk to their toddlers.

lildb said...

well, no wonder. I honestly believed that saying "sitsitsitsit" would make it happen.

duh. and I thought the dog was dumb. erm. huh.

Anonymous said...

Whining... as in just as bad as almost five year old tandem crying over what two year old brother took from him, which he had.... okay check out your last post x2 with an infant... but in the form of a purebred chocolate lab (he's from Wisconsin if that can explain something?).
Whining, ohhh some help with the whining! please... I'll listen real well! I promise.

Mom101 said...

Oh please please please won't you take your act on the road in a traveling tour of the Northeast? We need you down here! We took one class that sucked so bad our dog is still stuck on "sit."

We're not bad people, I swear! We just are crappy trainers. Also, English bulldogs are awesome but they aren't the Einsteins of the canines if you know what I mean.

Is that just an excuse?

Her Bad Mother said...

When we get a dog - which I am totally dying to do- I am going to pull out my printed-out copy of this post and put it to memory.

PoopyDigs said...

My dog had to drop out of puppy kindergarden because of an illness, and to this day only knows the first three commands. Sit. Down. Easy.

Mama C-ta said...

But beating them with a newspaper works too right? :)

Our dogs are just untrainable! I'm kidding. We had a dog trainer and she really did have a hard time w/one of ours who needs to be medicated for anxiety but isn't. It really is about training the owner though and I admit I sucked at it. And still do. You have a lot of patience!

liberalbanana said...

I love hearing dog training tips. I'm with dogs the way most women are with children. I'm preparing myself to have one some day and want to do everything I can to make things go well. I volunteer at my local shelter and posted the other day about it. They have a couple of really moving videos up on their website now - check them out if you have a couple minutes! www.warl.org

Christina said...

You think it would work on toddlers and husbands as well? They both like hot dogs, so we wouldn't even need different treats. :)

Irreverent Antisocial Intellectual said...

We have two dogs. Merlin (German Shepherd-Chow) is mine, I rescued him from the pound at @3 months. He's 10 now, and is.the.most.obedient.dog .in.the.world. I'll raise one eyebrow and he'll sit.
Gwen was rescued by the husband and myself. She was @1 year when we got her, we've had her for 5 years. She's a German Shepherd-Golden Retriever and a pain in the ass. Why? Because I wasn't given the opportunity to train her like I trained Merlin. Still, she listens more to me than the husband because she knows who means business and who's a big 'walk-over-me' dude.
Men. Worse than dogs ;)

Pendullum said...

I have a well trained dog now. I got it at the pound as a puppy. They warned me that he may not survive as he lost a lot of weight at the pound and seemed to be slowly dying...He was seven months...
and he had the name Kimo... go figure why the dog wanted to die...
I got Dog Training for Dummies and started off with small steps...(I never owned a dog before)

Well, I think the trauma of the shelter, helped in the training...
He knows to sits, lie down, comes when called and he gives both paws as a bonus...
That's all I really want from him.

I bought him to be a pal to my daughter as she is an only child...
and when she has a bad day that dog hears it all... He gets cuddled and scolded and my daughter calls him her younger brother...(sad as it seems)...
The younger children in the school have written stories about him and my husband calls him a 'chick magnet'... So I guess he earns his keep...

sunshine scribe said...

You are funny. But seriously, there are NO secrets?!?! I haven't gotten a dog because I was worried I wouldn't figure out the secrets...

jennster said...

i just WANT a dog! i don't care if it doesn't sit.. i just want one! wahhhhhhh

wendy boucher said...

Would you come stay at my house for a few days?

I started out with best intentions and my dog is a real sweetheart but we both need a kick in the ass. She's an Italian Greyhound and I must admit that she is better behaved now (at 2 1/2) than ever before but she can't resist jumping on people in an effort to greet them. She's my first dog. I'm not such a great disciplinarian. Thanks for the motivating post.

MrsFortune said...

It's so interesting to read your thoughts on this. I've known for a long time that it's really the people that need to be trained, not the dogs. Sadly, I was very good with my dog when we were in obedience class, working with her daily, being direct and all that stuff, and then I pretty much stopped when the class was over. Thus she is pretty unmanageable, and completely my fault. I love her to death but I didn't do right by her by not sticking with her training.

Ashley said...

this may have been commented on before now but have you watched that dog whisperer show on...hmmm...national geographic maybe? i don't remember but MAN that guy's impressive! he basically does what you just said though. you should watch it if you never have (although, since that is what you do, i'd be willing to bet you've seen it)

p/s i just googled it....it is nat'l geographic...cesar millan. check it out!

mo-wo said...

Ok I'll admit it. I agree. Good firm patience and clarity of message is crucial in the development of the the family [dog].

Seriously, sometimes when we argue over childrearing I bring out my 'no bad dogs' argument. I admit it.

Jenny said...

I too would listen to anyone who smelled like cheese.

Mmmmmmm....cheese.

Crunchy Carpets said...

dog training, toddler training and husband training are eerily similar.


I don't know how you do it. I would love the dogs and want to strangle the owners.

I bite my tongue in my own neighbourhood a lot with the dorkass pet owners here.

Don't get me started.

Jess said...

I have yet to meet a dog that I haven't liked. Most often I like the dog more than it's person. ;)
I'd honestly love to be the crazy lady on the street with 20 dogs.
Hot dog scent, huh?

Nancy said...

What MIM said -- your tips remind me so much of what it's like to have a toddler. It's so hard to keep "on message" some days -- easy to get distracted and send mixed signals to the little ones.