This is not a training post.
This article will will teach you nothing about how to train your dog to do anything specific or to stop doing anything.
This is not an instructional on how to set up and execute a training program for your dog.
This is not like any other “dog training” post you have read previously.
This article might make you uncomfortable.
This will be about your life, your mindset, and how they relate with being a dog owner.
This will make you ask yourself, even if for a moment, if you even deserve to have a dog.
This will pressure you to grow in a very positive way.
You deserve some respect for continuing past this introduction. Many have already clicked out as a result of their well conditioned and habitualized, almost involuntary response to anything that might evoke even the slightest amount of introspective thought and self evaluation.
Even if you fail to hold yourself accountable, your dog will most certainly not.
I am not going to spend any more time on explaining the origin of the domestic dog than is absolutely necessary. There does however, need to be a solid and concrete foundation of knowledge and history in order for the decadent house of much more complex understanding to be built upon.
While exact dates or even years elude science, one thing we can say with certainty is that dogs became a domesticated animal at least 15,000 years ago. We don’t know how it exactly happened or what the process even looked like. Theories exist, most of which are very romantic in their nature and imagery. Who can blame folks for such creations of lore. Given the contemporary magnificence of the dog, it is a sign of respect to honor them in a way befitting of such a damn fine animal.
What we do know is there is a reason they were successful at becoming a part of our lives. Dogs are masters at several crafts. They posses skill sets that not only allowed them to infiltrate the ancestral tribes of men, but then allowed them to demonstrate great value to those men. As I read the work of author Jack Donovan who writes masterfully of the tribal nature of mankind and how groups function upon the basis of how individuals contribute to the survival of the tribe, all I could think about was dogs.
Dogs earned their place among warriors in battle one day, while earning a place at the foot of a child’s sleeping mat keeping vermin away the next. As you look around the globe, dogs serve as diverse an assortment of purposes as they have diversity in appearance and function.
One thing that made it all work though, was a symbiotic relationship based on trust, with a common goal, survival of the group.
A Modern Mess
Fast forward thousands of years. Conflicts seem to exist behind the cowardice of keyboards and the battlefield has little room for anything of tangible reality, let alone the warrior dog. Mouse traps and men dressed in white suits with red hats show up to take care of your vermin. Delusional denial of the existence of real violence has left many to overlook the potential uses of the dog to protect them, as they see nothing to be protected from in a world without villains.
What is a dog to do?
The new champion of the contemporary fixation upon all things soft and devoid of accountability has identified a new purpose for our dogs, cuddling.
Let me be clear about something, I greatly enjoy showing and receiving affection with the dogs I am privileged to spend my time with. It is one of the most amazing things about them. Nothing compares to the unconditional attention they provide us with. However, while enjoyable for me, and in the moment, enjoyable for the dog, there must be more to this relationship.
There is a difference between being good at a thing, and having that one thing being the only thing you do.
If your dog’s sole purpose in life is to cuddle with you, then you have failed at your part of the bargain. What’s the evidence of your failure?
When your dog destroys your house, you have failed.
When your dog barks incessantly, you have failed.
When your dog hurts themselves to break out of their crate, you have failed.
When your dog licks and bites themselves raw, you have failed.
When your dog does not listen to you, you have failed.
When your dog does anything other than that which you want,
YOU, have FAILED.
What exactly have you failed at? I’m sure it is unclear because if you understood, it wouldn’t have happened in the first place. To an extent though, it’s not your fault. Dogs don’t come with instruction books.
Your dog requires far more from you than the side of your face for an hour a day resting on its fat laden belly. One thing dogs were not domesticated to do was to be a pillow. They make pillows for that. And while it is absolutely enjoyable to lay together on the couch or even better, in front of a warm fire, after a long day of work, you must first indeed first have had, a long day of work.
Does your dog know what it’s job is? How do you explain to the dog the only reason you got it was because you thought it would be cool to have a dog? Can you effectively tell the dog that they simply need to be a warm pillow for you when its convenient? What should the dog do for the REST of its day?
The gifts a dog gives us are of the most primal and noble virtues known to man. This is why they became part of human society in ways unlike any other member of the animal kingdom. There is honor in a dog as they never lie and they communicate their intentions masterfully to us, regardless of our frequent inability to understand due to our own lack of diligence and respect to take the time to learn how they speak.
The loyalty and commitment they have to us should only be repaid by a gift at least as valuable. This is the bargain we make, most often times unknowingly. We owe it to the dog to challenge them, to give them purpose beyond warming our feet for a moment when the internet is down or Netflix won’t load on our Kindle Fire.
There must be more to your dog’s life than cuddling. To suggest that is all they need might be one of the most dysfunctional selfish things you could say in the context of a conversation about dogs. It shows an unwillingness to learn about the real needs of the very creature you claim to love so much. Loving something, or somebody, the way you want to love them as opposed to the way they need to be loved, is nothing to seek admiration for.
Whether your failure was willful ignorance, or an honest case of “you didn’t know that you didn’t know”, if I am going to have a positive impact on your dog’s life, I must now help you. Helping you, is the only way I can help your dog. It is time you understand how to fulfill your end of the bargain.
The title suggested another reason for training your dog besides the obvious obligation you have to the community of other people who you chose to live among. There is also the obvious obligation you have to your dog to protect it, from the world that it does not understand. Highways, cars, other ignorant humans, are all threats to your dog’s existence, and it is your job, as their pack leader, to protect them. Often times a good guaranteed “come” command will save a dog’s life.
Those aren’t the main reasons however. They are far too obvious, even if still missed by many. You need to be training your dog daily because that’s the kind of stimulation your dog needs from you to be mentally healthy and happy. You need to be training them daily because you OWE them.
Like humans, dogs are incredibly social creatures. Most dogs enjoy the company of their humans hence them slipping into the solitary and dysfunctional role of being a pillow. What they need though is a job. As I explained earlier though, for many people the obvious jobs of a dog are simply not necessary. This is where you must get creative. This is also where simply participating in a daily routine of training exercises based in positive reinforcement can make that creativity a lot easier, as well as more fun.
The interaction involved in training your dog to simply lay down when you say to, or to go to their dog bed upon command, is priceless in its value to your bond. The social nature of the dog means it thrives upon being part of your family, your pack, your tribe. This bond is unique in the animal world in that dogs are better than any other animal on the planet at reading our moods, energy, and emotions. Why wouldn’t you want to foster this bond? There is nothing like the feeling when you see your dog learning.
I am writing a series here on the blog that breaks down how to get started in marker training using a clicker. The second article teaches you how to teach your dog to go stand on a bucket. Even though I explain that the purpose is so that you, the human, can learn how to reinforce and shape a behavior without any consequences if you mess it up, I still get messages asking me what the point is.
If you have never used a marker to train your dog, then how can you expect to walk up and start doing it right away without learning? The value of teaching the dog to step on a bucket lid, is that it has no practical real world value at all. So, by that logic, if you screw it up, its no big deal. From there we can work on fixing your technique long before we get you working on IMPORTANT behaviors like “come” and “down”.
However, there is something else that happens when you do this. In order to be successful you have to watch your dog in a way you have never done before. You must study every movement the dog makes no matter how subtle. In your anticipation of them successfully demonstrating a desired behavior so you can “click” and reinforce it, you become an expert on your dog. Are you starting to see where I am going with this?
The more you know and understand your dog’s actions, movements, habits, signals, and overall way of being, the closer you can become with the dog. Your bond begins to strengthen. As you watch them learn you will get excited which will only feed back into the dog as reinforcement for spending quality and engaging time with you. This folks, is what being with a dog is all about. This is how the two species are supposed to interact and thrive together.
Are you giving your dog everything back they have given you? Again, giving the dog what you think they want with no honest and objective acquisition of knowledge to support that “thought” is simply lazy and irresponsible. If not through research then how have you come to this revelation that flies in the face of those with much more experience and knowledge that “hugs” are all a dog needs to be happy?
For humans it has been the tribe, for dogs the pack. There is such a striking similarity between the tribal characteristics of humans and the complexities of the pack, it produces much more than simple awe. These groups operate in very similar ways. Members are born into the tribe, just as pups are born into the pack. Relationships are forged through respect and honor. Work is shared equitably and is undertaken by all for one sole purpose, survival of the group.
To a human tribe and a canine pack, there are the members of the group, then there is everyone else. This similarity can not be overlooked. The fierce loyalty of the group dynamic of both species originates from the exact same motivating force, survival. This should then beckon further investigation as to how we can use those similarities to find other, meaningful connections that can further our bond with the dog in our home, sharing our territory, and our resources.
By taking time everyday to communicate with each other, you are investing in the very thing you have already been receiving. The dog gives us what many of us seek the moment it comes home with us. Following that logic, we are thereby indebted to the dog in terms of relationship currency. That debt can not be paid back with affection. It must be paid with interaction. It must be paid with a commitment to communicate which can only be accomplished with activities dedicated to that very purpose.
That is what training your dog is.
Another important element of bonding is travel. Exploring new territory with your dog is of great value to your relationship. By demonstrating confidence in your journey, you and your dog will get closer to that relationship you’ve seen others have with their dogs and can’t seem to get for yourself. They have invested. They have put in the daily dedication to their tribe/pack member. They have given the dog what the dog needs
How can you embark on journeys when you can’t even communicate in your own kingdom? If you are not the center of your dog’s world in the doldrums of your own living room how will you be of any influence in the wild wonders of foreign lands?
Why would you send your dog to play with others in a disease infested area full of unstable entities that pose far more threat to the mental and physical well being of your 4 legged kin instead of spending quality one on one time investing in your bond? Taking your dog to a dog park certainly looks like passing them off on others instead of paying them back for what they have already given to you.
Whether you are man or woman, the message is no more or less appropriate. The bond between human and dog must be developed, nurtured, and invested in. Affection is a currency not to be given freely, for that which is unearned is often frivolously spent.
Teach your dog what you want. This will require significant time, and patience. The giving of time and patience to your dog is part of your payment on your debt. Dog’s are grateful for things they have earned, your payment will be well received.
I would like to acknowledge the work of Jack Donovan, who through his creative energies, has contributed to the education of those outside his own tribe. I do hope my own work can repay the debt.