“Less than perfect” dog

Jun 18, 2013 | | Say something

I do not teach my pupils, I only provide the environment in which they can learn” Albert Einstein

Why do dog trainers and owners, as well as behaviorists, settle for living with “less than perfect dogs” when we all know how it is done, the methods and procedures involved, and the techniques to be used. We teach patience and perseverance, but struggle to at times follow this ourselves…

Expectations – they help and ruin at the same time… The answer I would like to give to all is YES, your dog can be perfect in most circumstances. It doesn’t have to necessarily be that, but we could and should work towards that perfection. But it is also possible, and often crucial, to adjust the environment in the way that your dog is still considered by all as an absolute delight. Can we cut out all the possibilities for something to go wrong? Yes, we can, but this means  always being on our guard, on the look-out and planning everything in advance. Faultless management makes every dog look (and feel) perfect whenever and wherever it is seen. It is enjoyable by all, and creates a nice image that dogs have almost lost in this country (and outside of it). Shall we help the dog species to return into our lives as precious and treasured animals truly deserving different faith, rather than having them PTS, sectioned, locked away and given up, or simply made to suffer on a regular basis just because we think that we can’t help them any further?

Are we talking about fixing dogs? We talk about connection. Reinforcement of that connection may well be the fix that we suddenly stumble upon. It can come in different packages, and can be very different from dog to dog and from owner to owner. You get back as much as you put in – maybe we all have heard the saying before  but this still is the truth behind a perfect dog – a perfectly connected dog whatever the situation. So when the setup changes, this connection should vary in the way that the total picture, the perfect dog performance, remains just that, perfect. Trust, reliability, dependency, security and comfort are all parts of it.

The all – round dog requires an all-round education. How much do we play, handle, discipline, reinforce, motivate and stimulate our dogs on a regular basis? It just cannot be an on and off activity – if it is not regular, such an upbringing can do more damage to the dog’s mental development, than good. It is fairly similar to human’s growing up – there are critical stages, and certain behaviours / stimulus must be introduced within this stage as outside of it, you will spending ages trying to catch up for the closed window of opportunity.

One paragraph I will ask you not to comment on. Please – this is not put up for discussion and in a second you will know why. We are all self-adoring, “know it all” self-obsessing narcissists in search of recognition. Admitting this crosses out the reasoning behind us keeping the dog in the first place. I do that because I am committed, responsible… Blah, Blah, Blah… and great. Try to tell any of us that we could do better with our dogs – and you will realize the seriousness of the issue. But the actual conflict lies in the fact that deep down we do accept that we all could have done better. Are our fundamental beliefs not to be criticized. Ever. ???

Dogs, given the opportunity to live together, exhibit evolutionary behaviours polished up and selected from years and centuries of evolution, their repertoire would seem rather standard. Behaviour would be logical and rational being what provides them with the maximum outcome, the feedback of the life in that canine community. Any variations of that would come out as them having to miss out on certain benefits of the pack life and the necessity to adjust ASAP.

Fear, uncertainty, lack of socialization and insecurities are the pet hates that most of us happily accommodate, especially with rescue dogs – it always makes others go “Ahhh!” when told about the story of having our dog rescued after a bad start in life… It doesn’t help the dog though.

We find a few excuses that stop us from wanting to do the job in the first place: Dogs that are “good enough” most of the time shouldn’t tell us that better behaviour cannot and should not be achieved.

“Dogs are given rather a short life span, and subjecting them to handling more stress is not fair” is a complete myth, as having a few weeks, or even months spent on working on rehabilitating the dog you gift them years of happy and stress-free high quality life.

We all have busy lives. But why subject another living thing to suffering due to our inability to do this job?   solution could be found / purchased in every scenario, as long as there’s a will…

Specialized knowledge is required – keeping our minds open always helps the dogs. Closed minded trainers fail their dogs first of all!

Trainers are overloaded with work- there are lots of dogs around with much bigger problems which takes all their time. But isn’t having your own dog rehabilitated to it’s full capacity a necessary condition for all trainers? After all, who would want to work with a “shoe-maker without shoes”…

Is stating that the dog can’t be helped any further making us believe that we are good?  Is accepting that the dog in question could be helped to behave lots better an admission of our own failure?

It is amazing how much bad advice is out there. Not surprising that many of us are affected by what someone else, often with a reputation, has said.

Many of us get a dog before we become competent (or professional in this case) enough to help those dogs to cope with their issues. So can the old dogs learn new things? It works perfectly for the dogs, but it is us being an “old dog” who struggle with picking up on a new skill.

Descriptive behaviourists (they are my favourite!) and dog enthusiasts – these are fantastic company, especially when the conversation is not running dry. They know lots and are eager to share it. You can learn a lot from them too. Those who just talking about training dogs – they are usually a waste of time, having poorly behaved dogs themselves and having ideas that would take years to implement with a single dog, let alone trying to work in the busy dog training market.

There is often misconception of the dog training concept from the start – it is taught and delivered as non-glamorous, not fashionable and not prestigious by many, so when looking for some way out for our search for ways out and “happy triggers”, we tend to overlook such an amazing and hugely rewarding activity. Dog Training is cool! (so is training our own dogs!)

Reluctance to follow through with certain procedures is a very individual characteristic of every person. This can be due to many factors: our physical inability to be logical, to properly time or to simply deliver a certain stimulus, height, weight, health restraints, strength etc. or unwillingness to perform the act needed in certain circumstances. This could be for humanitarian reasons, religious, gender-related, previous experience (e.g. failure of a previous dog, abuse, being frightened) or merely a dislike of a person suggesting the right solution from the start (yes, we also develop helpful and unhelpful associations).  So here I would agree with the concept that however good your understanding of what is required is, you might still not be able to actually do the job and do it to the necessary level / standard.

Lack of financial support needs a special mention. We have lives, and jobs, and families, and sacrificing all of these for the purpose of training your dog right should not even be considered. Dog ownership is an expensive hobby, and if done properly, it does cost you money. The costs may be kept to the minimum if you are doing most of the work yourself and learn fast. Otherwise – this is going to cost you, as the help is out there. What we also do not research well is the backing that our government gives us by way of advice sessions, classes and leaflets subsidized by  local councils and open spaces as well as various charities. Having a poorly behaved dog would usually cost you more, but we are often not bothered by this until it goes wrong. And it often does! We invest in our childrens upbringing, but how much do we spend on our dogs education? Statistically, people who regularly attend dog training classes are 4 times less likely to rehome their dog and instead commit to it for life.

Happy owner and unhappy dog is what a lot of owners subconsciously teach their pets when they bring those dogs to classes. Dogs feel bad stuck next to them on-lead, and way better off lead – it is good to be away from the owner! So turning that around is our primary purpose.

Suppression versus allowing for the enjoyment for our dogs is where we struggle. There’s so much out there that we can employ in order to help our dogs (and, most importantly, ourselves!) but we need to get things moving. Training, whatever direction you have taken, is a step forward. Teaching incompatibles, discipline and routine build-up, reward-based methods and clicker training, observational learning, operant conditioning techniques, BATs, LATs, Calming Signals, DS / CC, TTouch, Pet massage, canine sports, ring craft, brain teasers for dogs – these all are designed to make things better and contribute towards that “perfect dog” phenomenon. Hand feeding is also an easy key. People will always hear what’s relevant to them, and be able to accomplish their duties to their ability only, but with the hand feeding way of training, you still wouldn’t do any harm to the dog or it’s behaviour. All that plus proper management would help us feel as close to 100% reliable “perfect”  as we can, and should be, taught to dogs and dog trainers.

So the answer to whether your dog can walk in a company of other dogs and not feel traumatized by the loud noises, as well as learn to accept new people in its’ life is YES. They can. But can you allow for them to learn it?

Give me whereon to stand”, said Archimedes, “and I will move the Earth.”


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