The First Skill of Dog Training

The First Skill of Dog Training

The single most important skill to develop is the ability to remain calm. Long before we consider a training philosophy, method, approach, technique or tools we should consider how we are going to conduct ourselves around our dogs. There are many reasons why considering our behavior is important and many reasons why being calm is always a good option, or way to act while relating to our dogs.


If we took some time to notice people relating to dogs we would see some amazing things. No two-dog/owner relationships are the same. That is amazing considering how many dogs and dog owners there are. There aren’t two owners that are or act the same, and there aren’t two dogs that act the same. That is a wonderful thing. We see dogs that display hyper behavior, and owners that display hyper behavior, we see dogs that act shy, and owners that act shy, we see dogs behave aggressively, and owners that behave aggressively, we see dogs that behave fearfully, and owners that behave fearfully, we see dogs that behave apprehensive, and owners that behave apprehensive, and we see dog that behave calmly and happy, and owners that behave calmly and happy. We have to be extremely careful in naming, or thinking of the behavior, not to name the person or dog people or dogs as this or that, happy or sad.


We should also consider that behavior changes quickly, and that behaviors are much more complicated than the words sad or happy may indicate. While a dog might tend to show one behavior more easily, or may seem to usually behave one way, that dog may at any point in time choose to behave in another way. That dog may adapt another way of “usually” behaving in time. The same might be true for the owner. A dog can display any of these behaviors at any given time and a person can do the same, and the behaviors do not have to match each other, but often the dog’s behavior and the owner’s behavior match each other or at least play off each other. If I treat my dog like an aggressive dog then my dog will may start to act like an aggressive dog. The same can be said about any behavior that a dog can display including calm, happy behavior.


While training dogs and teaching people it is helpful to notice these behaviors, circumstances, feelings and emotions that cause them. To the person that is having a difficult time with their dog the most important thing is how their dog is behaving, and what will have to be done to change the dog’s behavior.


If we think or believe that there is something that can and should be done about a “problem” behavior, the next question that we should ask is how to get it done in the most efficient way, without causing harm to our dogs or to ourselves, while using the least amount of energy, and getting the best results. We will need to understand different ways to reach our goals, pick the best way, or the way that will most likely work, and do our best to stick with the plan, at all times and in all situations. All things are connected, so my behavior is affected by my dog’s behavior, and mine affects his.


There are many different ways to try to stop a dog from exhibiting an unwanted behavior. There are rational and irrational, practical and impractical, caring and uncaring, effective and ineffective ways… If we are to pick the best way we have to decide if it is better to go the way of smart or irrational, practical or stupid… If we decide that it is better to be caring than uncaring, not abusive than abusive, then we need to figure out a way to consistently behave on the side that we choose. We have to figure out a way to behave consistently smart, controlled, and rational even in the worst situation. We have to learn how to handle the “crisis”. In short, we need to behave like professionals.


For the most part you don’t see professional firefighters acting irrationally at the sight of a house fire, you don’t see nurses being uncontrolled at a medical emergency, or a teacher acting uncaring way while changing their schedule to help a student “get it”. For the most part they act calmly and professionally. When they have to move fast they move fast calmly and professionally. When they have to watch a situation or listen to a story they do it calmly and professionally. If they did not react that way we would consider them unprofessional. These calm professionals still act with energy, motivation, and emotion. We are always able to stay calm in a professional setting because we are disciplined, we follow procedure, we know that we are capable of getting it done, and through experience we have an idea of how difficult it will be. We recognize the positive and negative, the ups and downs as part of the procedure. That confidence helps us to handle the not quite random situations (“crises”) that happen during the course of a job.


So if our dog has an accident in the house maybe the best option is not to react with anger, maybe the best option is to use the mistake as an opportunity to teach our dog what we want, and to teach it is best to remain calm, to be consistent, and to be clear.  If our dog jumps at the sound of thunder maybe the best action is not to coddle, or be overly nice to our dog. That might teach our dog that it is okay for you to be afraid, or worst that we like that they are afraid. We may instead ask our dogs to do something for us, to lay down for example, and praise her for that, or play interactive games that teach her that when she is afraid, especially when she is afraid she needs to listen and pay attention to us, and everything will be okay. It also shows her that you are calm and not afraid so she can be the same.


We are in control of ourselves. We are in control of every message that we send to our dogs. Our dogs follow our lead and reflect our feeling, emotions and behaviors. If we are consistently calm, we can teach our dogs how to act and react to any situation.


Good Luck and Enjoy Your Dog.