When will my dog be fixed?

I got together today with awesome friend and colleague, Elizabeth, for a little bit of shop talk.  One of the common issues we found between us is our clients’ desires for wanting their dogs’ behaviour problems fixed now.  In one session.  And after that session, they will never have to train their dogs again.

I may be dating myself, but this is suitable.

I may be dating myself, but this is suitable.

Even 4 years ago, as I reminisced about my puppy and tweaky tween classes in Whistler, I had students falling over themselves to find new things to train their dogs to do.  Every week, they went home and returned with a new trick, a new victory, and a new goal.  These people were relentless.  But in just a few short years, we have become a society of instant gratification – one button click gets us new information, and that is reinforcing.  So we click that button again and again and 20 minutes and 200 button presses have gone by (our phones/tablets/laptops have turned us into Skinner’s rats).  I can drive up in my car, order a wonderful beverage from Starbucks, drive 50 feet, and it is in my hot little hand.  There is even some mobile app now that I could order with so I could skip the first step and just walk in the store, get the beverage, and walk out.  That’s a big reward for little work (although I did have to part with $6).  Fast, easy and highly reinforcing.

Let’s combine this with how easy it is to acquire a dog – you can go on your local internet classified ads and have a puppy the next day.  No problem.  No one is going to ask you how tall your fence is, how many hours a day you work, and how you plan to train your puppy.  Just like Starbucks, you can basically drive to the puppies/dogs/adoption event, hand over some money, and leave with your dog.  Instant gratification.  You may even be able to get a certain colour, gender, or fur type – you can customize your puppy.

I am sure for many people, it may be smooth sailing from here on out – those of us who are on the 3rd, 4th, 10th dog know what we’re in for.  We have researched reputable breeders and/or rescues, already trained dogs, been involved in training classes or dog sports, ridden the highs and lows of behaviour modification, and we know that we get our gratification every day from those small successes – the movement of a hind leg while learning rear end awareness, the eye contact before heading out to play.

But for others comes the frustration – why doesn’t my dog listen to me? why doesn’t my dog come when called?  Why does my dog lunge at other dogs on the street when we go for our one walk per week (because we’re too busy to go for walks)?  I don’t have a magic answer – I probably can’t fix your problem in an hour.

Dog training (any animal training) and behaviour modification take time – time that consists of

Mulder wants me to scrape the ice off the truck windows NOW so we can get to bite work. RIGHT NOW!

Mulder wants me to scrape the ice off the truck windows NOW so we can get to bite work. RIGHT NOW!

consistency, repetition, timing, patience and thoughtfulness.  This time will need to occur again, likely in the same day.  And again tomorrow and the next day.  I used to tell people to train on commercial breaks – 2 minute increments of time that are ideal for a training session.  Those commercial breaks are gone.  How about when you are making your morning coffee?  Oh, the Keurig only takes 10 seconds.  Your dog isn’t working out for you – there is no updated version coming out in 6 months.  Apple isn’t going to fix the bug for you.  You cannot download a new version overnight.

I have no quick answer to this question – when is my dog going to be fixed?  All of my answers start with “it depends….”  A lot of it depends on the owner and how much work she/he is willing to put in.  I put a lot of work into my dogs – all of my dogs – because I enjoy it, and I will help all of my clients put a ton of work into their dogs, but I won’t do it for them (because having me come and live with you is out of the question).  Until we start enjoying the process and stop pushing buttons all day, I’m a little worried about our relationships with our dogs.  This is likely why I live in my bubble of training and books – I make my coffee with a French press (it takes more than 5 minutes!!), I turn off the data on my phone, and I don’t binge watch TV series.  Maybe I’m an anomaly but I would rather spend my time with my dogs – training, communicating and learning.  Not with a computer screen but with my dogs.

These two are my very favourite things in the whole wide world. All day, every day.

These two are my very favourite things in the whole wide world. All day, every day.

Posted in behavior, behavior consultants, Belgian Malinois, Business, City, classical conditioning, communication, dog sports, dog trainers, learning theory, London, obedience training, Ontario, operant conditioning, People, Positive Dog Training, Uncategorized.

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