Thursday, April 26, 2012

A vent on behalf of dog trainers everywhere...

Here's one of those vents that has been a long time in the making - but must be said - at the very least to get it off my chest. It's part vent, part rambling and it starts like this...

In the office or at dinner parties (the few I go to since I'm usually off training, trialing or otherwise occupied) I'm always introduced as 'the dog trainer' or 'the dog lady' - something of the like. Often with some sort of phrase such as "if you need help training your dog ask Erica". In general I'm pretty giving with my advice. I know a lot of these engineer types won't actually go take classes (because they're so incredibly brilliant they already know it all) or they have such busy schedules fitting in training time is impossible. In these cases if I can offer some solutions I know I'm helping the dog - the person, well they take the free advice and do whatever they'd like with it. If their 12 year old dog never learns to retrieve there's no skin off my nose, but I've given them some tips to get started. Sometimes these folks will end up in a class with me - or someone else (which is fine). I don't really care who trains the dog if the net result is a better dog-owner relationship.

Then there are the folks who persist, who come back time and time again looking for advice on how to 'fix' the behavior their dog has always had that has always bothered them, that they REALLY WANT TO FIX, but then will argue with me over a thousand excuses why they can't use any of my suggestions for any number of reasons - and then will complain over and over again about above referenced behavior. It becomes this "My dog is so bad that..." punchline.

Case in point: 
A recent acquaintance, has a high-energy working breed. On first introduction he tells me that he's owned this breed for 25 years and he's never had one as completely untrainable as this one (which he's had for five years btw - from puppyhood). The dog is high energy, probably high drive too - would probably make a dynamite working dog if she was in a different home. The unwanted behavior is pulling on leash - not an unusual problem for owners of big high-energy dogs.

This dog has been dragging her people on 5 mile walks every day for five years. As it was described to me "She pulls, and bucks and rears" the whole way. The wife can't walk her because she's so strong and the husband complains that it's 'so much work' to try to walk this dog every morning.

My first question - how much exercise does this dog get?

It turns out this dog does not get any off-leash exercise - EVER. She's off-leash in their small backyard, but she has been declared non dog friendly (with no actual evidence to this fact) and 'will not come' when she is off-leash. Well, if YOU were a dog and never got any freedom, or exercise - or training, my guess is that you would buck and pull when you were walked at a leisurely pace too.

So my solution (again, remember this is all free advice) - find the dog someplace to run off-leash or with a long-line or teather. That line could be 100' long if you needed it to be, but this dog needs to burn off that excessive energy - and she needs to do so every day. Once she's gotten that release you can start working the leash walks, but you can never let her buck and pull again. When she pulls you need to stop your motion and wait for her to reconnect with you. You need to offer positive reinforcement when she is walking with you and not bucking and pulling. Start in small spaces (your backyard) get some really nice loose leash walking in your yard, then move to your driveway, etc. Build up the behavior with small steps at a time - with lots of positive reinforcement.

But she can't be off leash! But she is REALLY tired after she pulls for five miles! But she doesn't run when she's loose in the yard - she just stands at the door. But I don't have that much time to do all that training. But the wife doesn't want to deal with a dog who hasn't had a long walk to tire her out. But I'd have to get up at 4am to take her to the park when no one is there. But she doesn't like treats or toys!

Excuses. And more excuses. One of those situations where I'm not going convince the dog owner to make changes and one of those situations where I can say the same thing every morning, dispense the same "how much exercise is she getting" advice and the dog's situation won't change. So today my conversation (in unfortunately a public setting after a relatively long frustrating dialogue) with this person ended badly:
"You must like things the way that they are because you have a lot of reasons for not wanting to change the behavior".

Done. I do feel guilty for not helping the dog - but I won't keep giving away tools and getting back disrespect and excuses.That's not the way this game works.

Here he is with a solid plan for fixing this problem which he's had for five years - but it's too hard. It's too much work. It's too inconvenient. I can't fix what people are unwilling to change for themselves. I can give people the tools to change, I can give people ideas on what has worked for other dogs and other clients in the past. But I can't (and frankly don't want to) work with people, dogs, clients, etc who aren't willing to put the time into fixing the issue.

And that is pretty much how my day went. Nothing a 5 mile run couldn't fix though. Five miles in 1:11:52 tonight. I feel better already.

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