Recognize Your Own Personality
Now it is time to analyze yourself. What kind of person are you? Demanding? Sweet? Forgiving? Compulsive? Be honest now…Take out a pen and paper and write down three adjectives to describe your personality. Now compare them with your dog’s character. Are you demanding, but your dog is a sweetie? Someone is going to have to change.
Making too many demands on a sweet dog will frighten him. He’ll shut down or run away when training begins. If you’re compulsive and you have a laid-back dog, you’ll be laughed at. Have you ever seen a dog laugh at its owner? It’s quite embarrassing. For you to be a good dog trainer, you must modify your personality to suit your dog.
Understand Your Role in the Training Process
One of my clients called me in jubilation one day. After weeks of group training, she had figured it out. “Training is about making the dogs want to work with you!”
In class, I repeat the same concept in many different ways. However, I understand that hearing the words and feeling their meaning rarely happens simultaneously. Though this student had listened to me, until this point, she had been training her dog by dictating her commands and muscling through all corrections. Additionally, she carried out my suggestions to the extreme: If I said to enunciate commands, she’d shout them. When I encouraged people to tap their foot lightly to end a heel, she’d stamp it.
She loves her dog tremendously, but when she started training, she was more obsessed with the mechanics than the process itself. “Remember,” I would tell her, “Dog training involves two spirits: yours and your dog’s. One affects the other.” To understand your role in the training process, keep these things in mind:
- Training is about making your dog want to work with you!
- Your dog isn’t a machine; he’s a spiritual being.
- You are your dog’s leader.
- Every dog learns at different rates. Frustration is catchy, so stay calm.
- Your mom’s right again—patience is a virtue.
Learn from Your Dog
But isn’t dog training about controlling the dog? No. That’s not the whole story. Any dog trainer worth his weight in dog biscuits knows that learning is never a one-way street. A few years ago, I took in a rescue dog named Calvin. Here is his story:
“But Calvin, You’re the Dog ‘Trainer’s Dog!”
In May of 1992, I went to Massachusetts with a friend to help her pick out a Labrador Retriever puppy. The pups were adorable, but we were continually interrupted by relentless, frantic barking coming from the other end of the barn. Occasionally, the owner would march over and spray a dog crate with a garden hose, an unkind and completely ineffective correction.
I learned that this barking machine was Calvin, a seven-month-old chocolate Lab who was looking for a home. He had already driven several previous owners to distraction. My friend insisted that we take a look at this poor homeless fellow and finally I agreed. The crate opened and out popped Calvin. He was brown. He was cute. He was out of his mind!!!
We tried to ignore this leaping, licking, barking bundle of misdirected energy, but it was impossible. Suddenly, his temporary owner produced a riding crop, and I knew I had to help this confused creature. My intention was only to evaluate his personality to better help her place him. This is the first thing I do with every dog I meet. I believe that no matter how badly behaved a dog may be, there is a spirit beneath the confusion that can emerge with proper understanding and training. I saw the spirit in this dog immediately and found myself uttering the fateful words, “I’ll take this dog.”
I’d like to say that the rest of the story was just a perfect canine fairy tale, but it wasn’t. On our first night, he grabbed a sandwich right out of my hand and swallowed it whole. The next morning, he tore the moulding off of my car door and urinated all over the house. For several months, I thought I had lost my mind. He was a case study in behavior problems: housebreaking, chewing, jumping, nipping, barking, and leash pulling. He ran in the opposite direction when I called him. I enrolled him in a dog class and had to quit because he whined and agitated the other dogs.
I cried at night. I wrote poetry to keep my spirits up. Petting his head, I kept pleading with him, “But Calvin, you’re the dog trainer’s dog!”
Twice, I nearly gave up. Although I felt that my life had become a dog training nightmare, I realize now that Calvin taught me more than any book or lecture could. He frustrated and aggravated me and made me feel like a fool. But he also taught me patience, understanding, and commitment. And his most valuable lesson? I learned what it feels like to be one of my clients.
Somehow, we got through it. And we did it without electronic collars, riding crops, or garden hoses. Negative corrections like these create fear and confusion, not love and trust. Dogs seek out the attention of any kind. In his previous homes, Calvin got negative attention for acting up. In his mind, the negative attention was better than no attention.
I was determined to show him a new way of doing things. I taught him that good behavior gets attention, but bad behavior does not. He learned to bring things rather than steal, to fetch a toy for guests rather than knocking them over, and to lick my hand instead of nipping it. I didn’t break his spirit; I just helped him focus all that energy.
In the end, Calvin taught me a lot. In fact, here’s the poem Calvin helped me write.
Treat me with respect, teach me your rules, and train me with patience.
Let me know what pleases you, for if you don’t, my unbridled enthusiasm may place unnecessary and stressful demands on you.
There is not an animal on the planet that can offer you the same unconditional devotion that I can if you show me the path to your heart.
Through my puppyhood I may test you, but only because I’m a puppy. Persist, for I will remember your structure as I grow into doghood.
Do not take advantage of me.
Though I have many needs, I cannot speak.
Be my leader, my keeper, my friend, and my voice.
Your efforts will be our reward.
The Least You Need To Know
- Like snowflakes and babies’ feet, no two dogs’ personalities are alike. Recognize your dog’s personality before you begin training.
- A dog can behave in various ways. How she acts is determined by your attention. Whether that attention is negative or positive makes no difference to your dog. Understand your role in creating problems, and trust that your dog can and wants to be good.
- To train your dog properly, you may need to modify your personality traits. If you have a passive personality and a strong-willed dog, own up and act tough. If you’re a nervous hysteric and you have a sweet pea, ease off a bit.
- The best dog trainers are the ones who are open to lessons only a dog can teach: patience and faith that you can develop a rewarding relationship.