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Train the Dog in Front of You

Holly Leake
Every single dog is unique. Like us, they have their own personality and personal preferences. 
They have their favourite toys, their favourite foods and even their favourite people. Nevertheless, when it comes to dog training, the clients often expect you to teach their dog obedience and conformity.

Such expectations rarely take into consideration the dog’s preferences and personality, which is imperative to maintaining the relationship. Any relationship, where feelings or preferences are ignored, is never going to last long. Therefore, it's vital to train the dog in front of you and coach the clients to do the same, but how can you do that?

Meet the Needs of the Breed

Every dog has the right to exhibit natural behaviour, in fact it's one of the 5 freedoms. Sadly, many clients purchase breeds, with little research about the specific traits and needs of the breed. This often leads to clients having unrealistic expectations of both the dog and you, as the trainer.

For example, clients with scent hounds complain that their dog spends too long sniffing on walks or clients with collies often complain that their dog never tires out. These behaviours are misinterpreted as bad behaviour when, in reality, it is just normal behaviour for that breed. Nevertheless, many clients often expect magic solutions because they believe that their dogs should confirm to their lifestyle, regardless of their DNA.

Although it's not easy, it is our responsibility to tactfully educate clients regarding the individual needs of their dog’s breed. It's important to establish that no training is going to teach a dog to go against their very own genes. Thus, the only way forward is ensuring these needs are adequately met.

We should teach clients how to provide a healthy outlet for these behaviours and explain how this will prevent their dog’s behaviour becoming problematic. Meeting the needs of the breed can prevent so many behavioural issues and ultimately sets the dog up for success. While the breed doesn't account for every behavioural issue, it's a factor that should always be considered when tailoring our training to the individual dog.

Acknowledging the Dog’s Capabilities

We all have individual talents and equally, we all have things that we will readily admit we are terrible at, but happens when someone homes in on our mistakes? We tend to defend ourselves by reminding others of our strengths.

Nonetheless, it can be very easy to solely focus on a dog's weaknesses, in fact trainers rarely get a list from their clients of their dog’s accomplishments. Positive behaviour is inadvertently overlooked because it doesn't require intervention, therefore the dog is only really acknowledged when their behaviour is creating an inconvenience. Sadly, dogs can't defend themselves, so it's up to us to emphasise to clients that their dog cannot possibly be good at everything. Perception is an important aspect of successful training, because a dog's behavioural progress is often limited by their guardian’s belief in their abilities.

It's so beneficial for dog guardians to recognise what their dog is especially good at and ensure they are acknowledging their dog’s accomplishments by rewarding their dogs on a regular basis. Dog training isn't just about teaching cues or about stopping negative behaviour, it's about providing enriching experiences and being ready to reward good choices. If guardians are only looking for negative behaviour, then we can guarantee that is all they will see. However, if they are looking for positive behaviour, their perception of their dog’s behaviour will be more in tune with their dog’s true potential.

When it comes to a dog’s struggles, we should encourage guardians to view this as an area that simply needs more work and support. If their dog struggles with anxiety, we must teach them to be reasonable in their expectations and realistic about their dog’s current capabilities.

Considering Personality

In the 21st century, we celebrate diversity and enjoy learning about other cultures. While we may be drawn to certain personality types, we readily accept that everyone is different and adjust our expectations accordingly. Nevertheless, when it comes to dogs, personality is often overlooked.

Many seek to socialise the nervous dog who would rather avoid other dogs or squeeze the dog that finds being held uncomfortable. To ignore the dog’s preferences is seemingly comical enough to share on social media. While a dog’s quirks can certainly be funny, we need to ensure we respect a dog's wishes, as this can be essential in preventing aggression and a breakdown in trust.

We can't force a dog to be cuddly or social any more than we could force a friend to be so. In every relationship, we accept the person for who they are and love them for their unique personality. Every dog we work with deserves the same. While training can accomplish amazing results, we can't fundamentally change a dog’s personality or preferences, neither should we want to.

We should encourage clients to embrace their dog’s unique personality and find ways to bond with their dog by doing things they enjoy. We can also demonstrate how using what their dog finds most rewarding, can revolutionise their training and make the experience more fun for both them and their dog. When clients begin to appreciate their dog for who they truly are, they will definitely achieve better communication and develop a more meaningful relationship.

"Instead of wishing for that magical dog, work with the one you have right now,
the one right there looking up at you."
-Denise Fenzi
So, instead of trying to transform a dog into something entirely different, we need to be teaching guardians to train the dog in front of them, by readily meeting their behavioural needs and fully appreciating their dog’s strengths and individual personality. Every single dog we work with is unique and each one teaches us something entirely new, and let's be honest, we wouldn't have it any other way.

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