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Archives for March 2015

Training Ruins Everything

Lately, I’ve gotten a string of clients that express a concern about training their dog. They are worried that training is going to ruin their dog’s personality. They’ve hesitated to do lessons, for fear that their dog will become some sort of training robot and lose the qualities that they find endearing.

Practicing down-stays during a quick restroom stop

Practicing down-stays during a quick restroom stop

Second to clients complaining that their dog is too affectionate, I find this concern totally befuddling. I mean, we’re not talking about Clockwork Orange-style conditioning or a lobotomy, folks. It would be like worrying that if you go to school, you’ll become a Stepford wife.

There is no amount of training that will ruin your dog’s personality. I promise. He will continue to be silly or goofy or wild. He will still get the zoomies and howl at the moon.

What training will ruin is your frustration. When you have proactively worked on coming when called, for example, you won’t want to throttle your dog for running away [AGAIN].

It will ruin your embarrassment. When people come over, you will no longer be apologizing as your dog claws and mouths your guest in the process of saying hello. As your dog sits, wiggles and squints and waits to be pet, you will notice you have only pride where there once was shame.

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Dinner down-stay


Training will ruin those moments where you end up yelling at your dog for chewing your shoe [AGAIN]. When your dog comes over and drops a toy in your lap because he is asking for play with a preferred object, you will miss the moment of exasperation; sick of having to put everything away for fear your dog will destroy something (or everything).

Training will ruin some trips to the vet. Your dog won’t be hit by a car or picked up by the local animal control officer after running away. Your dog won’t need surgery for swallowing a sock that you were trying to get out of his mouth. He won’t need to have his stomach pumped after dive bombing and hoovering a bottle of medication you dropped on the floor.

And, when you do go to the vet for routine exams, training will ruin the need for three techs to muzzle and hold your dog down for an exam. When your dog stands in place and allows all the poking and prodding, you won’t worry that the vet will miss something because your dog is too nuts to be examined.

Sitting for greeting

Sitting for greeting

Training will ruin chaos. One Sunday morning as you sit with the paper and your coffee, you’ll realize that a month or a year has gone by and all you and your dog have done is enjoy one another. You’ve hiked and played and cuddled and gone on leash walks and it’s been really fun. No mayhem. No drama.

Training ruins regret. You won’t find yourself thinking, ugh, I’ll never get another dog. Or, I can’t believe he did that [AGAIN]!

So, give training a whirl. See what’s ruined and what’s created in the absence of unwanted behavior. I dare say you’ll enjoy all the things that training ruins.

I’ve written this blog in honor of Rowan, my border collie who turns 11 tomorrow. Training ruined many things for us, including incapacitating shadow chasing, dog-dog aggression, separation anxiety and thunderphobia. We now live a relatively anxiety-free life.

Rowan at the ER after getting quilled.

Rowan at the ER after getting quilled.

Don’t You Need to See the Behavior?

I have been a professional dog and cat behavior consultant for over 10 years. Prior to that, I spent 12 years working with children with severe mental illness. Never once in that time did a parent, social worker, teacher or clinician come to me and say, “Elise, I just want you to see the behavior so you can really understand it”. Truly, the idea almost seems abusive, right? Who would ask a child to cut herself, starve herself, assault her family, or soil himself out of fear? Who would put a child in a situation where we were forcing him to relive a trauma to such an extent that he dissociated, retreating to a corner and whimpering for the bad monsters to leave him alone?

Let me ask you this. Let’s say you came to me and said you were worried about your temper and would like my help in stopping your violent attacks on strangers. What would you think if I carefully considered your concern, walked over to you, stared you up and down, saying, “Yeah? Let’s see this attitude problem of yours”.

Likewise, let’s say you came to me with the same issue. But, after describing it, you stood up and said, “Now, before I sign on for help, I need to show you exactly how violent I can get. I saw a staff party going on down the hall. We’re going there and I will inevitably beat the crap out of someone”.

What would you think of me, as a certified professional, if I allowed you to attack someone so I could see the behavior? What would you think of me if I provoked you into violence?

My job working with pets is very similar to my last profession. I am diagnosing behavior disorders, collaborating with veterinarians and other pet professionals to design plans to modify severe behavior issues, and implementing plans with the cooperation of the pet’s owners. And yet, almost every day owners are convinced they need me to see the behavior. Whether it’s a dog chasing its tail, charging the door when I arrive or lunging at cars passing by, there continues to be this need for me to see it.

I totally get how freaked out owners are when faced with a pet’s behavior issue. I know it’s scary and stressful. The emotional rollercoaster veers from feeling embarrassed and confused to frustrated and sometimes even angry. My compassion and empathy runs deep. Trust me, I’ve seen all the behaviors…I’ve lived with and rehabilitated almost every type of behavior issue out there. But, it’s important to understand that seeing the behavior means putting your dog or cat in a deliberately stressful situation and that’s unnecessary. Proper diagnosis typically doesn’t require seeing the behavior. Even better… amazing, awesome, and effective behavior mod plans don’t require seeing the behavior. Promise! So, unless we’re filming the behavior as part of a Before & After series, let’s keep that behavior out of sight.