By Lynn –

A lot of people who pooh-pooh the use of corrections of any type in dog training are the ones who will trot out words such as “fear,” “pain,” “inhumane,” and heaven forbid, the C-word: “cruel.” All the time, more often than not, looking down their noses at someone who is obviously a morally inferior being to dare suggest that it’s not only OK, but acceptable to teach a dog the boundary of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.

What I don’t get is, are they referring to training in general (is it better to NOT train a dog because anything of the sort makes it somehow NOT a dog?), or the basic learning process that any animal–or person–must go through in order to achieve a high reliability rate (teaching, proofing, and proofing with distraction)?

Ironically, my two favorite words are bandied about more in the positive-only training circles, despite their successful silence in the world of the more balanced learning regimes, or at least those that are open to the idea of using appropriate discipline when training a dog. Understandably, it’s hard to even imagine these words ever coming into play in the case of dogs with extreme problems.

The word one is most likely to hear in any animal-related post is “love.” I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love their animals, and this is yet another word thrown around by many positive-only camps: who doesn’t love their dog, and who wouldn’t want their dog to love them back? The problem rears it’s ugly mug, however, when love doesn’t solve aggression issues, or pulling on the leash, or even something as simple as not coming when called. I believe it was Koehler himself who stated that, and I paraphrase, a dog who desires leg of mailman will continue to strive for it while ignoring any attempts at distraction, such as redirection with treaties. In this situation, one might say that the dog doesn’t “love” it’s owner, since it obviously doesn’t care about responding to the owner’s wishes (and yet things like this are promptly forgotten when the dog is peacefully sleeping in said owner’s lap in the evening!).

A good look at how the concept of “love” has gone drastically awry in any animal-human relationship is shown through a lovely blog entry by Ruth Crisler. It’s a long read, but certainly worth the time!

Ignoring all the ways that people show “love” to their pet in the absence of actual things that would greatly increase the quality of life, the truth is that there is no “love” in a relationship without my two favorite words: if there is neither respect nor trust, there is no relationship. It goes the same way for the relationship between and out-of-control dog and it’s owner as it does with the abusive boyfriend and the girlfriend who insists that he is really a kind teddy bear at heart. In both relationships, there is no respect or trust, and the only “love” that is present is one that is fabricated by those who only use the word in hopes that, if they hear it enough, then all their troubles will end.

(Hey, check it out…someone already thought of the Abusive Boyfriend corollary! Great read if you want to see some good examples of and insights into Abusive Boyfriend Dogs and Bunny-Boiler Bitches.)

But using fair, appropriate corrections on a dog and achieving respect and trust without breaking it’s spirit, causing aggression, submissive urination, and an overall lack of joie de vivre when out with it’s cruel, non-dog-friendly handler? How does that happen?

Actually, it happens more often than one might think. The only problem is that not too many are willing to figuratively buy into the idea, much less put forth the effort needed to pull it off. (Hence the popularity of send-away training, which, like most things, has it’s distinct advantages and unfortunate disadvantages.)

The idea that one must have respect and trust in a relationship is also representative of the realization that said relationship is a two-way street: there is some “give” in each direction, where each being is allowed to have some form of control. Where it differs with the dog/owner relationship is that, despite the “give,” at the end of the day, the dog must answer to the owner rather than call the final shot.

So what is respect on the owner’s end? Respect for the dog involves knowing that dog’s capabilities and limitations. It involves knowing what drives that dog might possess (based on breed or personal hands-on evaluation), and knowing how to use those drives to the utmost advantage when doing any sort of training. Respect involves the acceptance that a dog is a dog, not a horse, nor a killer whale, chicken, elephant, pigeon, nor any other non-dog animal. Respect is using training techniques that will teach the dog in the quickest, most humane way to be a well-behaved canine citizen in human society, and accepting that those techniques might involve the use of an occasional mild aversive if necessary.

We all know respect is a two-way street, so what would it look like from the dog’s point of view? It would involve respect for the owner, who has earned it through consistent, fair and clear communication. It involves respect for physical boundaries set by the owner, whether it’s something as simple as “Just don’t steal food from the counter” or the complexity of learning the boundaries of the yard. Respect is responding to a command the first time, because the dog understands that it can receive one of two consequences, the one being more desirable, the other not so much…and part of this respect comes from teaching the dog to not FEAR the undesirable consequence, but to move freely about within the realm of behaviors that are encouraged and rewarded.

Trusting one’s dog, especially off-leash, is a bit of a stretch for some people because it involves something not quite unlike being thrown into the deep end while only having been taught to swim in the shallow end. Trusting your dog is a sign that you acknowledge your dog’s ability to think though something and choose what is right: your dog sees a prey animal. What does it do? If you trust your dog and have trained it with respect, knowledge and confidence, the dog will make the right choice. Even when not doing training in and of itself, trusting a dog involves that it has learned what you desire of it and is willing to voluntarily stay within the boundaries of that behavioral “fence” you have erected for it during the course of training. Of course, it would be so easy for the dog to nip into the street to grab a ball, or blithely ignore your recall, or even chew on your favorite settee, but he chooses not to. Instead, he earns your trust by screeching to a halt at the curb and waiting, or dashing back with a happy dog-smile, or chewing on his favorite bone. Earning your trust earns your dog his freedom in ways that other dogs can only envy.

On the other end, your dog must trust you, and be given reason, as such trust is not free. Possibly one of the cornerstones of this trust is going to come from the respect that you show your dog through training and daily interaction. Some dogs might take a little longer to gain this trust due to previous experiences, while others will latch on immediately…and, sadly, some dogs will lose trust in their owners through means which are many and various, from misguided ignorance of attempting to do good to The Unrestrained Use Of Excessive Force. (Capitalized due to it being an actual song by an actual band, but the imagery and use of such a phrase is more than fitting in this situation, no?) Your dog must trust that you are a fair leader, and will not do anything that is out of line, such as meting out unwarranted discipline or being too rough in handling. Trust is from protecting your dog rather than putting him out to fight his own battles, and teaching him how to think for himself as well as respond to your commands and cues.

And I’m probably forgetting about a million other things involving the two-way street of respect and trust between you and your dog, but hopefully the basic gist of the idea is there.

Once the two parties in question have achieved a level of respect and trust appropriate for them, then there is a true relationship that, to others, looks as though you and your dog have a mind connection with each other. Whether your dog is trained for the obedience ring, the police force, yourself (in the case of a service dog) or even just basic house obedience doesn’t matter.

Am I saying that one MUST train their dog to have a relationship? Far from it. Many people will insist that their dog is perfectly fine, and that their relationship is perfect as is. As long as that’s the case and the dog is not a harm to anyone, it’s certainly not my business to say that any dog, whether or not it knows obedience, is not worthy of a place in someone’s heart. However, that doesn’t preclude me from saying that, whatever your relationship is NOW with your dog, it definitely won’t get WORSE if you take it one step further. Training is not just an exercise or a 15-30 minute commitment per day for life deal…it is what makes dogs true extensions of ourselves and true mirrors into who we really are. Do right by your dog…it’s the furthest thing from being any sort of “cruel”!

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