That might sound like a strange statement, coming from a dog trainer, but the reality is that as much as I love training and working with dogs, training has limitations as to what it can achieve, if the rest of a dog’s life is not what it should be.
Attending training classes once a week is highly beneficial for many dogs – that is why we do what we do! In class we can provide a productive environment for dogs and owners to learn together, we can pass on knowledge to dog owners so that they can continue to work with their dogs at home, we can help to build strong relationships between dogs and owners by opening the lines of communication through force free training that encourages dogs to engage with their owners and view them as a great source of fun and good feelings and we can provide essential exposure and positive experiences for puppies in the socialisation period, building their confidence and developing emotional resilience and problem solving skills. Ask any of our long-term clients and they will tell you that they keep coming, because they see the benefits of continuing to grow their relationship with their dog in everyday, real life situations and because their dogs “LOVE school!”
However, there are certain problems and situations which training will simply not fix. We unfortunately quite regularly get asked about training, usually from people with adolescent or young adult dogs, because the dogs are barking all day or destroying the garden. When we start asking questions, we find that in most of these cases, the dogs are being left home alone all day (often for 10-12 hours), they are seldom allowed in the house and they seldom get taken out for exercise at all. Basically, the dogs have no life. They have no social contact (barely any even with their own family) and no exercise or stimulation. Many are “working” type dogs, either acquired as family pets by people who are too busy with careers and kids to focus on a dog’s needs or they are acquired for protection and expected to do a job as “outside” dogs.
Training will NOT fix these situations. Expecting a dog to cope with a life where they literally have nothing to do is unfair and unrealistic. Dogs will find their own ways to amuse themselves – barking, digging, chewing and even trying to escape from the property are some of the ways that a dog will deal with a lack of social, physical and mental stimulation. Spending one hour with a dog a week in class will not stop a dog from being bored, lonely, frustrated and depressed for the remaining 167 hours a week that they are neglected.
Many years ago, a veterinary professor who taught animal behaviour said in a lecture I was attending: “A dog is not a motor car – you cannot switch it off and put it in the garage when you don’t need it.” I would add that neither is a dog a pot plant – you cannot just water and feed it and expect it to flourish in a corner on its own. Neither is a dog a child’s toy, brought out to provide amusement for the family and then expected to amuse itself when the family is busy with other things or the child loses interest.
A dog is a sentient being. A dog is a social animal. A dog wants to be part of your family and they need plenty of daily social contact with you, as well as daily enrichment which allows them to explore the world, make use of their brains and senses and expend some physical energy. One hour of training a week will never replace all of this.
The greatest gift you can give your dog, is to truly share your time and your life with them.......