The missing link in training

Posted on August 5th, by Sean O'Shea in Training Tips. Comments Off on The missing link in training

When dogs go home from our board and train program we give the owners strict guidelines for the next 30-90 days depending on the severity of the case. Those 30-90 days are critical. They’re all about resetting your relationship. They’re all about changing your dog’s perceptions and associations with you and your home.

This is where so many training programs lose their progress. Trainers have lived a certain way with the dogs, have created a relationship based on this way of being together, and then they turn over a well-trained dog to the owners. A well-trained dog that knows all the commands, all the behaviors, and all the rules…with that trainer. Unfortunately, that well-trained dog still has all his or her old perceptions and associations (the relationship dynamic) with their owner.

And here’s the thing: relationship will always trump obedience commands.

You can have all the training in the world, but if your dog FEELS disrespectful, entitled, pushy, bratty, uncertain around you and your home, he or she will disregard commands, push against rules, feel uncomfortable, and likely revert to old behavior.

Changing the FEELING your dog has about you and your home environment is essential to turning things around.

Of course obedience commands that are asked for and enforced will help tremendously with affecting that feeling. Your dog will see and hear you “ask” things of them, and if the work is done by you correctly, they will know they need to respond accordingly. And that will make a big impact.

But there are other aspects that have a major impact on how your dog FEELS around you and your home, and if you leverage these along with the obedience work you’ll have a much higher level of success.

What are these other aspects?

Restrictions. These restrictions are likely what your trainer shared with your dog to create the healthy relationship that they enjoy. Trainers restrict movement, affection, and even play. They control what the dog experiences, and they leverage that to build healthy relationships.

Why do trainers leverage these things? Because they work. Because dogs that roam freely have a very different feeling than do dogs who’s freedom comes from their owner. Dogs who receive lots of unearned affection feel very different than do dogs who have to earn it. Dogs that play any time they want feel very different than do dogs who’s play comes from being given permission.

If these sound harsh and not the way anyone wants to continuously live with their dog, I agree! No one wants to live this restricted with their dogs. I get it. We didn’t get a dog to have to have it locked down and restricted all the time. BUT, if things have gone south in your relationship, if your dog and your life together are a mess, then these restrictions can be your gateway to a better, more happy, and truly free life together.

Think of them as a means to an end, not the end itself.

If things are tough and you’re working to overhaul your relationship, here’s our TGD reboot plan.

  • Dog sleeps in a crate
  • Dog is in the crate whenever you’re gone or he/she is unsupervised
  • Dog is only out of the crate when working/training, walking, pottying
  • Withhold all affection
  • Treat the dog in an aloof, distant fashion
  • Don’t play or horse around with your dog
  • Practice tons of duration “place” work. Your dog can be in one spot for several hours if needed.
  • Use obedience commands (recall, sit, down, place, heel, crate, thresholds etc.) to “ask” things of your dog that reinforce a leader/follower relationship.
  • Don’t just do what’s easy, challenge your dog to do what’s difficult – whether that be “placing” somewhere challenging, or recalling past enticing things. (Always be working on duration, distance, and distraction.)
  • No free feeding. Your dog eats when it’s feeding time and the bowl is removed after 5-10 minutes if he/she doesn’t want to eat
  • The walk is highly structured. No marking, no sniffing, no wandering, no pulling. Your dog walks in a “heel” 90% of the time and is released to potty/sniff 10% of the time – on your release
  • All negative behavior (barking, whining, growling) is corrected firmly

Adjust these restrictions slowly (incredibly so!) as your dog begins to shift. As he/she begins to show a true change in demeanor (and consistently so) you can slowly adjust the restrictions accordingly. But remember, relationships aren’t built or rebuilt overnight. You might need this program, or some version of it for several months.

I know it’s tough. I know it’s a lot of work, and it seems like it will make your dog (and you!) sad. But if things are indeed rough with your dog’s behavior, and your relationship, I think you’ll find all these restrictions to be the secret behind a true relationship reboot. Not just training your dog to know rehearsed commands, but training your dog to actually FEEL differently about you and your home. That’s the real training magic. That’s the stuff trainers understand and leverage, and owners often don’t. And it’s also probably the biggest reason when training doesn’t “work”. It’s not that the dog didn’t get trained, it’s that the relationship never got right.

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