Realistic Training Goals

“Biology and Behaviour are bedfellows. You can’t be solely to blame if your dog’s neurons misfire” – Leslie McDevitt (2007)

I love training, seeing improvement and confidence building in our dogs but for many of our not so average dogs there will always be that super important element of management in their lives.

There are so many wonderful stories of dogs turning around and becoming good members of society, sniffing their way to solutions in life and counter conditioning their way to loving the postman. While these successes are fantastic for the dogs and great ego boosters for us as trainers they are not realistic goals for every dog. The reality for many not so average dogs and their owners is that their dogs may never be considered good perfect members of doggy society and unfortunately a lot of people hire a trainer and even dog trainers themselves dive into training expecting miracles and get easily disappointed and rapidly unmotivated.

Being realistic in your training goals is so important and while there are always successes and improvements that can be made there are so many barriers that in one way or another prevent a dog from being completely ‘rehabilitated’. Elements such as time constraints, lack of good and correct information, bad timing, the wrong training environment, dog anxiety and the list could go on..

To set some realistic goals ask yourself what the lowest level of improvement that you would consider a success and start there. For example, if your dog is afraid of other dogs don’t expect that after some training he will be romping around gleefully in the dog park, that may or may never happen, but what could happen? Maybe he could happily pass another dog on a walk or see a dog in the distance at the park and not react. I think we often set the bar too high for our dogs when in fact smaller more realistic training goals should be cause for celebration and go on to motivate us for greater successes.

Sometimes as owners and trainers we need to be more realistic, embrace management and give it the credit it deserves for being the first line of defence, while at the same time continuing with our realistic training goals because of course… ‘Management always fails’.

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Not Your Average Dog

We all have a vision of our perfect little puppy growing up to be a confident, well socialised dog that loves everyone, humans and dogs and small children and grandmothers and motorbikes and birds and vacuum cleaners and men with walking sticks and shadows and squeaky doors and pill packets opening and ……

My perfect little puppy didn’t grow up to be that dog and the roller coaster that has been his 4 years of life has taught me more about dogs, dog training and how they learn and see the world than if i had ended up with that perfect dog. I have my boy to thank for that am grateful every day that I have him, issues and all.

I have not arrived at this place without drama… along the way there has been a lot of tears, blame, regrets, family arguments, desperation, laughing (because otherwise you cry..), forgiveness and acceptance both of him and our situation. I have also come to reaslise that not everyone who has a not so average dog has the resources and support to manage and train their dog concurrently.

It’s so simple for people to say ‘go get some training’ however along with training the first issue to address when taking on the challenge of training and rehabilitating a reactive or shy dog is management.

As their carer, trainer, friend and trusted human we are responsible for managing their life including (in no particular order, although the first one should probably be first…):

  • Keeping others safe
  • Potential hazards
  • The environments they are exposed too
  • Their stress levels
  • And their recovery

Management is crucial in giving your dog the best chance at success. Of course management always fails. There will always be a freak storm, a slamming door, a gate that didn’t quite close, or that lovely person who lets their dog off the leash in the on-lead park. Management is not easy, so here we go….


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