Can you teach my dog to act like that?
I work part-time at a golf course, and thankfully they allow me to bring Wyrm to work. One of the many benefits of bringing my dog to work with me is that I get lots of compliments on his behavior. Very often, when people find out that I am a dog trainer, their first question is “can you teach my dog to act like that?”
This is the wrong question. Honestly, the answer to that question really doesn’t even matter. What I can teach the dog doesn’t matter. I could send you home with my “well behaved” dog, with his 6+ years of training and most likely I would be getting a call from you within days begging me to come pick him up.
The behavior my dog displays has far less to do with the programming I’ve managed to imprint on his brain than most people think. Most of my dog’s behavior is a collaborative enterprise that we have worked out through hundreds (thousands?) of hours of communication. Both of us devote a lot of time and attention working out “if he does this…then I do this…”. Though it may look like I tell him what to do and he does it, what’s really going on is we are both constantly communicating. I’m making sure his needs and wants are met, and he is doing the same for me. We are engaged in something similar to a dance. I may appear to be leading, but it’s only because he’s choosing to follow that lead.
A more useful question to ask might be “Can you teach me to get my dog to act like that?” Unfortunately, the honest answer to that question is “probably not”. I’ve spent most of my adult life developing the way I interact with dogs. I’ve read hundreds of books and practiced for thousands of hours. I’ve borrowed ideas and concepts from so many sources and disciplines. I wish I could convey all that to a person in a few short sessions, but I simply can’t condense all that information to that degree.
Here’s what I can do. I can teach you what you need to understand in order to fall in love with the long, challenging path that is communicating with your dog. Most people aren’t looking for the long, challenging path, they are just interested in the treasure at the end of it.
Here’s the thing, if something is truly valuable and worthwhile, it’s not going to be quick or easy. For some things in life, there are no shortcuts. If you want to reap the rewards you need to put yourself on the path and stay on it. Everybody wants six-pack abs, health and vitality, but few are willing to put the time, effort and daily discipline into their diet and exercise regimen. We all want to be on the easy path to becoming millionaires. Many have been fooled by late night TV ads into buying supposed quick, easy ways to those goals, but those shortcuts aren’t shortcuts - if they were we’d all be millionaire supermodels on 5 minutes of exercise and two hours of work a day.
Training your dog is basically the equivalent of developing a shared language and relationship with a non-human being. It’s a complicated endeavor. More complicated than you or I can truly conceive. What the help of a good trainer can offer is insight, techniques, concepts and practices that will give you the opportunity to make some quick progress in building that language and relationship. The goal isn’t to get you to the treasure at the end of the path, it’s to get you to see the value and benefit of the engaging in the process. To fall in love with being on the path.
It’s long - I’ve been on it for decades, and I not only don’t see the end, I don’t really believe there is one. Sometimes the journey is the destination.
It’s challenging - There are often times when I am frustrated by my dog, myself, and the limits that our different types of brains seem to impose on the process. These challenging times, though they may not be enjoyable in the moment, are where progress happens. No challenges means no progress. The mild bitterness of those challenging moments are what make the incredible sweetness of progress possible. One can’t exist without the other.
This path is a strange one. Many people aren’t aware that it exists. Of those few that do, most completely misunderstand what it is and where it goes. The majority of those that walk the path take just a few steps and stop, believing they’ve reached their destination. Others get lost on the path, or choose to step off it when the going gets tough.
So, after all this, can I teach you to get your dog to act like that? Maybe. Maybe I can show you the path. Maybe I can convince you to fall in love with it. Maybe I can convince you of the value of stepping down it a little further each and every day. At the end of the day, however, as with anything of value, only you can determine if the benefits are worth the costs. Obviously I believe they are.