We are all aware that life is not all roses and sunshine. Life is often confusing and difficult. We, as humans, for all our complexities, are able to navigate through the world with the highest functioning minds and most convenient bodies for our environment, and we should consider ourselves lucky that we have been born in a state that is so conducive to possiblity and freedom.
Now, it is easy to think that a dog’s life is great. Playtime, treats, napping, and scratches make a doggy’s world go round! However, it is important to consider that dogs have more difficult lives than we think. They are completely dependent on us. They are in our world, and they can only speak in ways that a lot of humans can’t understand. They do not understand most human concepts. They don’t know that the mailman isn’t there to hurt them. They don’t know that the ambulance is saving somebody. To them, the mailman might be a scary stranger, and the ambulance is a fast, loud, giant, terrifying thing that hurts their ears. They don’t know that we have to leave to go to work. When we leave them, we can’t tell them how long we’ll be away. Self-control is a foreign concept to a dog, and when we don’t always let them get what they want, they get upset because they don’t understand.
Being a dog, especially if they have some traumas or behavioral issues, is hard! Remember that!
This Is About The Dog
It is our job to teach dogs to navigate in a world that is not naturally theirs, and to help make their lives better and easier. Therefore, leave your own baggage at the door! Our own wants, desires, and ego in general pervade our day to day life in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, and it is natural for humans (or any being, really) to be focused on ourselves. We want what we think is best for ourselves, and we focus on getting that.
Dogs are doing the same thing. They want to be happy, and do what they think is best for themselves. When their desires collide with our desires, there can be friction. Pup wants to chase a squirrel, and we might not want that. Pup wants to go one way, we want to go another. Pup starts barking and snapping at something we know isn’t dangerous, we get frustrated and think, “Don’t you know it can’t hurt you?”.
It is very easy to let our own egos and selves get frustrated with an animal, especially if we are making slow progress or backtracking. However, if you want to be a good pet professional, and especially a good trainer, you need to focus on what is best for the dog, and that means putting aside your own comforts, wants, and needs for a little while. Practice doing this in small doses every day until you’re able to do a full session. You can even practice with your friends, family, partner, or even strangers!
Here are some key ways to think about this:
Love: We want all animals to be happy
Compassion: We want all animals to not suffer
Joy: We want to rejoice in their happiness
Equanimity: We want to see all animals as worthy of the same treatment and love
Shaping A Self
When you listen to a song a bunch of times, you get the song stuck in your head. If somebody yells at you every day, it creates bad feelings associated with that person and with yelling. When you practice something, it becomes a part of your skill set.
The things we hear, see, taste, smell, feel, and experience color our lives, and create behavioral and mental patterns that dictate our future behaviors. Everything you have experienced has shaped and created your idea of yourself and what you do.
This is especially true of dogs. Dogs learn almost entirely by association, and they become who they are from experiencing their environment. Repeatedly introducing negative stimuli and situations to a dog will create negative behavioral patterns. Their minds will be shaped by negativity. Repeatedly working with positive stimuli and safe situations will shape them with positivity, and the result is a much happier dog.
A dog that is pronged, choked, and shocked is going to know a life of discomfort and suffering. This is not a good base for building any sort of productive or healthy behavior. A dog that is rewarded for good behavior, has a solid relationship with their handler, and understands boundaries will grow immensely and be happy.
Consider The Dog’s Life
One of the most important things to consider when working with animals (or people) is that nobody lives forever. Dogs are amazing, beautiful beings that have such short lives in the grand scheme of things. This may not be fun to talk about, but if you want to be a good trainer, and fully appreciate animal companions in general, you need to realize that dogs are only here for a short time.
We can cry about it all we want, but crying doesn’t help them. Being the best trainer/walker/caretaker you can be, putting their needs first, and giving your all to making sure they have the best lives they can have is how you can help them. Once you realize that they don’t have all the time in the world, you will want to work that much harder to make sure that their relatively short time on this Earth is the best life the can possibly have
We subscribe to Progressive Reinforcement Training
“Progressive Reinforcement Training essentially means teaching animals by rewarding desired behaviors and excluding the intentional use of physical or psychological intimidation.”
Dog Trainer, CPDT-KA. I have been working with animals in the city since 2015, first as a dog walker, and then as an animal trainer. Having completed a multi-year apprenticeship which included a stint as an animal wrangler for goats and chickens on Broadway’s Once On This Island, I received my CTDI and CPDT-KA training certifications, and am working on continuing education with a goal of advanced certifications in the future and an ever increasing knowledge of behavior and training.