Do You Know Why Your Dog Won that Conflict?

Thanks K9joy for this photo

Thanks K9joy for this photo

Okay, okay, okay let’s talk about my usage of the word “won” I HATE using that in conjunction with dogs and dog training.

Everyone is so focused on who is winning and who is losing.

Did your dog “Win” did you “Win”  chances are if “Winning” is that important to you; you are both losing.

The truth is, that if you work things right and use your mind you both can win, because dog training isn’t a win or lose proposition.

Dog training equals winning for you both!

But if you have this feeling that your dog is “winning” and you are “losing” in most of your interactions let me explain to you what is going on and why.

Thanks bookboon for the photo

Thanks bookboon for the photo


The problem that most people encounter in their dog training comes down to conflict between dog and owner.

Instead of problem solving and building a relationship and learning to think like our dogs we are worried about “winning”, who won, who gave in, who caved.

I see so many people use abusive techniques with dogs that just simply don’t understand.  The dog is not being belligerent he just doesn’t understand what you want.  His mind doesn’t work like yours.

His mind is closer to that of a 2 year old toddler.  If you wouldn’t smack your 2 year old for not listening (and I certainly would hope you wouldn’t) you shouldn’t smack your dog.

Don’t Get Me Wrong

imagesDon’t get me wrong this is how I was trained to train dogs…  Give a command, force dog, praise until the command elicits the behavior.

If the dog refuses a command issue a swift and forceful correction usually with a prong collar, shock collar or choke/check chain.  It should be painful enough or distasteful enough that the dog will not do it again.

That was basically how dogs were trained.  It is still how a lot of dogs are trained.

Some people mix both positive with some negative for what they think is a more balanced approach.  As a trainer I don’t have a big issue with consequences for not listening, because I think having a noncompliant dog is almost as bad.

And constantly giving commands that aren’t carried out and then babying a dog can be dangerous and can create an aggressive dog as well.

So Let’s Break it Down

Thanks four paws training

Thanks four paws training

So let’s break it down with some training scenarios and why I think using more positive training and understanding can help you both.

I recently had a client that was having trouble teaching his dog to “sit or down on recall”.

For those of you more novice, this means you call your dog and as he is coming to him you give him a command to sit or lay down.  This is more intermediate or advanced obedience but a good visual tool for how dogs learn.

For those saying “I don’t need that kind of advanced obedience” or “Why would I want that” it can save your dog’s life if he is suddenly off leash and you see something dangerous like a car coming.  You wouldn’t want you dog to get hit by a car or attacked by another dog running to you.  It is a great control command.

But it is more complicated than it sounds for you both.

The dog owner was disgusted because his dog refuses to listen.  The dog knows basic obedience so he should recognize the command “sit/down” and comply.  It was making the dog aggressive as he ran forcefully corrected the dog and tried again and again with no success.

The human is not seeing this from the dog’s perspective.

The dog hears his name or come and is excited… he is ON A MISSION!!!  He is coming!!!  He certainly hears the command but he is like a 2 year old excitable child, he is EXCITED!!!!  He knows how to do this!

So in my humble opinion he hears it but he doesn’t hear it or take the mental break to process it as he is committed to another command.

In his mind he isn’t saying “screw you dad! I’m coming anyway”

I think in his mind he is saying “yippee, yippee, yippee!!!  COME!!!!  I can do that!!!

Thanks Pet Advisor for the Photo

Thanks Pet Advisor for the Photo

Yippeee!!!  What??”

Think of him as a toddler with happy ADHD.  That’s why we like dogs right?  Because they are so happy and amiable and excited to see us and interact with us, but we don’t take a step back to realize that this tiny sweet brain just needs a step back and more information to be successful.

But his owner gets mad and frustrated and he doesn’t want to LOSE or have his dog WIN gasp* so he immediately corrects him physically, which frustrates the dog who is just excited to “Come” and doesn’t understand; and some dogs resort to aggression when they are treated aggressively.

There is SOOOO Much Conflict That No One is Winning or Learning

Everyone is losing.

So What Do You Do?

When you’re trying to teach your dog something and he isn’t doing it as fast as you want or understanding, take a step back and ask yourself WHY?

Don’t fall into the winning/losing trap; ask why is this not effective?

Chances are because your dog is a happy toddler and just needs more steps and help.

So I recommend taking a huge step forward as you give the command to sit or down, this jogs your dog’s mind because he sees your body change as he hears the command.  This simple step can help him listen and comply.

Sometimes doing it at a shorter interim, instead of 10 feet try dropping him at 3 feet and help him with his leash and a treat and click as you step in.

You can also use a long line or a tether just to teach your dog to work at distance from you (which for him is so much different than obeying up close) his mind just wants to get to you that he isn’t computing what you are saying.

Helping him takes out the conflict and you both win, and you like each other better.

You aren’t frustrated and aggressive with him, and he doesn’t get frustrated and aggressive with you.  You both learn to enjoy working together.

Who wants to be trained the old force and correct way of dog training?

I want to be taught and then tested.

Nothing likes force.

So What About Corrections for Willingly Not Complying?

Again, I say take a step back and ask yourself why?

Most often  you will see a flaw in your training or understanding of your dog.

OR and here is a BIG ONE

You don’t train with him very often and so he isn’t used to listening to you.

If you train regularly he learns to listen to your commands and your voice.  If you don’t he learns to ignore you.  3-5 training sessions a day is really a big KEY in dog training!


Thanks Wachusett Kennel Club for the Photo

Thanks Wachusett Kennel Club for the Photo

Some dogs still refuse to comply.

Let’s face it, we’ve all seen what I call the furry finger.

They go through a stage of learning, complying to make me…

And so I make my dogs comply.

That doesn’t mean I need a leash correction or a hand, sometimes that simply means that I take you in and deny you of training or your ball or food.

Specifically in agility you can’t force your dog to do something 10 feet away from you, you have to motivate your dog to WANT to.

So when I see that finger when she is running agility and she’d rather sniff or wander… she is immediately taken off course and put up for a small period of time.

She learn, because she likes the motivation of training and treats and toys that if she doesn’t listen there are repercussions… but I don’t fly across the room and back hand her for not taking the weave poles; that would be insane on my part and neither of us would WIN.

That is not to say I have never popped a leash or helped my dogs with my hands; it is not as effective, in my opinion.  I behavior that is freely given through motivation and no conflict/pain is a stronger behavior.

And, I always want to be the “thinking animal” in our relationship not the hand of aggression or force, which means my dogs don’t try and nip me when I “correct them” and we both win and enjoy our training and time together.

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