“How’s That Workin’ For Ya?” The Need for Change in Dog Training

I hate to even admit it now, but I use to watch Dr. Phil occasionally YEARS ago when his show was new.  Now I think he has joined the “smut patrol” with other seedy daytime talk shows but I use to think some of his advice was fairly useful.

Even back then, I use to see some of my clients (in my head) as he was counseling people.  He would ask a question, they would answer but then try to defend their behavior or their choices.

When given advice, they would often answer… “I tried, that doesn’t work, he won’t like it” and time after time they would try to defend their behavior or convince him to see the superiority in their thinking.

It was usually at about that time that he would interject… “So, how’s that workin’ for ya?”

This simple statement reiterates that the flawed behavior is NOT working and therefore there is a need for true and whole hearted change.

If something is working out efficiently, then there is no need for change.  But, when you are having tribulations you need to break down the actions and determine where things are flawed so that you can make a change.

The definition of insanity, as defined by Albert Einstein, is “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

As a dog trainer, I run into this psychology or “insanity” all of the time.  People want their dog to “change” but they don’t want to exert any effort and they certainly see no need to change their behavior!

I was always happy to realize that it wasn’t just my clients who behave this way; these people were on TV arguing with the renowned doctor and expert that they were seeking advice from!  When I look at it that way, my feathers get a little less ruffled.

I have to admit it is usually people that are dealing with aggression or other severe behavior problems that want to do the most arguing.  I guess because serious behavior problems require the most work and effort, and often take the longest to see suitable results.

The problem is: I don’t have a magic wand.  I can’t come to your house and totally transform your dog for you in one sitting with no effort wielded by you.  It just isn’t possible; in the real non-TV world.

Like any other prevalent behavior that requires strict change; I think sometimes people need to hit their own rock bottom.  The problem with that rock bottom often ends with a bite, exorbitant damage and the ultimate euthanasia of the dog.

I am hoping to save some doggy lives and some people bites by pleading with dog owners who have dogs that are suffering from severe behavior problems to be willing to make some tough changes.

What Can You Do?

  • The first step is to admit honestly that you have a problem
  • The next step is to determine what you are willing to do about it?

Are you willing to do anything to save your dog?

Or are you unwilling to make proper change?

  • The next is to determine WHY or what else is contributing to the ultimate problem
  • Change takes total commitment and lots and lots of effort.
  • You may need to retry something you gave up on too quickly!
    • You have no idea how often I have heard “He doesn’t like it”… or “I put the Gentle Leader on, but he didn’t like it….”  Really?  No dog “likes” it at first; it requires effort to acclimate your dog to it!
  • Behavior modification is often a slow and tedious process, and sometimes prevention needs to be inserted into the program by controlling aggressive dogs and keeping bites from having a chance of happening.
  • Positive reinforcement, although it may take a longer time build a firm foundation, needs to be used.
  • Do not fall prey to the dazzle and dramatization of forceful and barbaric methods of compulsion seen on TV.  Although the behavior may seem to evaporate, I guarantee the TV cameras are not there to see it reappear or see the additional behavior problems it creates!

I recently watched a TV episode where the dog trainer grabbed a trash can lid and a stick and slowly chased the fearful aggressive dog that had been biting people, into a corner and intimidated it until FINALLY it relented in exhaustion (panting and looking frantic) and accepted the trainer’s presence.

Later when the dog growled at the trainer while on leash, he was kicked in the ribs; as the dog trainer explained to rid him of “negative energy”; then he was fashioned with a shock collar and his brain was fried for an additional aggressive behavior.  By the end of the show, of course, the dog had been cured and allowed the trainer (and I am sure we are to assume others) onto his property.

We were shown very little training, actual energy, and follow through that his owners would have to do; as magically he seemed cured of his demons.

But, when the trainer and the camera crews are gone which delivery person or Girl Scout is willing to pick up a sword and shield and chase the unrestrained dog down if he barks in a threatening manner?  And, if they did (not knowing dog behavior like a professional trainer does) wouldn’t they likely be bitten?

Sure, I could chase dogs down and give them a kick to the ribs; but I refuse.  Aggression should not be treated by aggression and not everyone is capable of doing this type of work without getting bitten.  It seems quick and its flashy but it is irresponsible and doesn’t tackle the problem; it usually eventually exacerbates it (as the dog realizes not everyone has follow through or will use aggression) and it creates more problems in the end.  I am surprised more people are not mauled after treating a powerful dog this way!

First I would instruct the owner to fence the yard (preferably wood or other visually impenetrable fence) to safely contain the dog to keep it and people who wander up out of harm’s way.

Dogs, especially aggressive ones, should also be kept inside when owners are gone.  Control cannot be attained while owners are away and total change and breaking the cycle of aggression is imperative!

Behavior modification would be slow but would include the owner desensitizing the dog on leash and giving it something else to do (obedience) when people approach.  The dog would be increasingly rewarded for quiet and nonaggressive behavior.

Visitors would be instructed to toss wonderful treats to the dog when he was quiet and to avoid eye contact.  Speaking to a fearful aggressive dog and petting would be totally avoided in the beginning until it could be determined that both dog and human would be completely safe and acceptant.

Change is a Good Thing with Behavior Modification

Positive reinforcement is not as showy or glamorous to the onlooker but it is so much more effective, humane and safer for everyone!

Ultimately don’t fall for the tricks or the lure of an easy fix!  And, when your dog has a behavior problem commit to true change, don’t just jump to “that doesn’t work or he doesn’t like it” give it a heartfelt try as long as it is not dangerous to anyone involved.   Of course he “doesn’t like it” you are taking him and yourself out of your comfort zones!  This abandonment of comfort and the apprehensiveness it creates is a product of change.

Change isn’t easy, if it was we wouldn’t face it kicking and screaming all of the time…it is uncertain and leads us to feel uneasy, but when you have a sincere problem true change is essential!

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  1. Chantal Maree says:

    Hi Chet
    I have a 10month old Rottweiler bitch called Xena. She’s my life and has the most loving personality.

    I read your article regarding modification of your dog’s behaviour and I wondered if you could maybe give me some advice.

    Xena, like I said, is very loving, but usually towards grownups. When she sees a child, she starts barking and goes into an aggressive mode. I know I’m also tense when there are children so she feels that from me, but I don’t have enough confidence in her to take her up to a child so that they can touch and pat her.

    How can I modify myself firstly and then help Xena accepting children. My husband and I do not have children of our own yet, but we would love it if we could get our dogs/children to accept human children, for when we do have children, we don’t sit with an even bigger problem.



  2. Jude LeMoine says:

    I see the need for patience and persistence showing up again. Really, aren’t those two things the answer to change both in ourselves and in our dogs? And aren’t they the two things we resist the most. There’s just no ‘quick fix’. When are we going to get this? Well written, Minette.


  3. Karleen says:

    Thanks, Minette, for another great post. I totally agree with you. Unfortunately, and I think especially in this day and age when we want everything right now, too many people are not willing to take the long route of proper training to get the desired effect. I recently tried to talk someone out of using a shock collar on their 5 month old great dane puppy. He said the puppy was eating turkey and deer poop and it was the only way he could get the puppy to stop. This person didn’t want to hear anything I had to say about alternate methods of training and simply said I was a “know it all”. He wanted a “quick fix” and unfortunately the puppy will pay the price. I’m a professional dog groomer and another thing I hear sometimes is “he won’t let me… comb out his tail” or whatever. I have to chuckle. Anyway, as Jude said, “patience and persistence” along with positive reinforcement does get the best results in the long run. Thanks again. I enjoy your posts and get a lot from them.


  4. Tina Quinn says:

    Congratulations on this article and all the comments received. I come across this problem frequently, and believe it or not, not always for aggressive problems i.e. “my dog will not walk on a loose lead” etc etc and when I tell them that behaviours do not just happen you have to put the time and effort into all training and always use kind and positive reinforcement training.

    I feel quite strongly about certain dog training programs shown on the TV can in fact cause more problems – I often get comments from my clients that they have tried and follow the recommendations from certain programs. Yes maybe a trainer can do these type of things but certainly not the general public and even I would not risk some of the methods shown. People should be encouraged to only use positive methods and seek help if they encounter problems.

    Thanks again for this great article, I always enjoy reading them.


  5. Ron says:

    Thanks for a very important post. It sickens me to think about the tactics some people use to train dogs. Unfortunately, many of those who use them probably won’t read this article, but if only one does and it changes his or her behavior, your message was successful.

    Keep up the good work!


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