As a dog trainer teaching positive reinforcement classes, I am always reflecting on how to help clients achieve increased success with their training efforts. Nobody has much spare time these days, so I feel that improved communication from myself, to enhance training sessions and increase success ratios is a very important job of mine. To that end, I often observe some entirely unrealistic expectations of puppies, and dogs in general. My job then, is to convey appropriate information as to what a puppy can and cannot be realistically expected to do. I hope after reading this, you might be able to lower some of your expectations, and achieve a higher level of training success.
Not succeeding is downright frustrating! Nothing is more important than a puppy-owner team being able to succeed with new behaviors, from the standpoint of both. Following is a list of behaviors that are often doomed to failure due to inappropriate expectations.
- STAY: baby puppies will naturally follow a person who moves away from them. Beginning stays should be of short duration, **with no distance criteria** added at all. Moving away from a puppy that has no concept of staying for 5 seconds is setting the puppy up for failure. Keep it realistic based on the attention span of a puppy, and set the puppy up to succeed,not fail.
- JUMPING UP: puppies have no internal self-control monitor and need human direction and management. If they are free to run to the door, they **will** jump up on the friendly visitors who are reaching for them. This is not dominance, per the widely touted Cesar Millan concepts, but normal dog behavior. I don`t know many puppies that can think "maybe I should really sit instead of jumping up and greeting this person." A leash, coupled with a cue to sit, followed by reinforcement will greatly enhance success with this behavior.
- RECALLS: A recall off leash in the great outdoors, with distracting smells and stimuli, is the P.h.D of recalls. Puppies that have just learned to gambol to you from across a room **will not** be able to reproduce this behavior while loose and on the far side of the backyard. Not....gonna....happen. Training to the former level of distraction is an ongoing process that takes time. For now, lower those expectations, make it easy for your puppy, and reinforce those successful efforts.
- LOOSE LEASH WALKING:is another behavior where folks tend to be a bit unrealistic and become frustrated. A puppy that is showing lovely attention and walking nicely on leash in the classroom needs to generalize this behavior to other locations. Distractions need to be added gradually; don`t expect that your puppy will be able to walk politely on leash all the way down the street to the bus stop without pulling. Loose Leash Walking is one of the most difficult behaviors for a dog to learn. Help your pal out by practicing for short distances in low distraction environments, reinforcing successful behaviors generously, then releasing to be a dog.
- NEVER GROWLING: This is actually a highly desirable behavior, and unrealistic to think that our dogs should never growl. We whine and complain about all manner of things; growling is how puppies express their anxiety/fear/insecurity etc. Punishing growling can literally produce a dog that proceeds to bite first. Popular entertainment on TV (dangerously) expresses the notion that growling is dominant behavior and needs to be punished as such. Providing a distraction, reinforcing another incompatible behavior and managing the environment are all much safer alternatives.
This has been a brief overview of how unrealistic expectations can set you up for failure in training efforts. Having an understanding of normal dog behavior helps you to adjust expectations and set your puppy up for success. Have FUN with your training. Highly recommended for those who enjoy reading is the timeless The Culture Clash: Jean Donaldson. This book is available at DOGWISE. Colleague Kevin Myers also has a great recommended reading list on his website DOG LOVERS DIGEST. Good luck and hugs to your furry friends.
Leslie Fisher PMCT, CGC Evaluator, ABC Student Mentor