Am I your teacher?

It does no good if you can’t or won’t do the things a leader suggests to you.

You won’t learn if your focus is on the dog, and changing his or her behavior. To be a successful animal trainer, the focus has to be on changing our own behavior, because that’s how we can best shape the behaviors in our environment(s).

So, if you know right from the start that you don’t want to crate train, or if you are sure that the problem is something wrong with your dog that has nothing to do with you, then maybe I’m not your teacher! If you think that animal training is a sort of magic that is completely different from the ways we educate and socialize our human children, then maybe I’m not your teacher.

Animal training, in my experience, is about building a relationship based on trust with the animal. It’s about learning where reinforcers and punishers exist in the environment, and learning how to control consequences to help our animals adapt to our environments and understand our rules and games. It takes time. And just like humans, animals can unlearn things as fast as we learn them. Animal training requires a consciousness of YOUR responsibility for the state of your dog’s behaviors.

Mo at 10.5 weeks

We control our dog’s environment in order to control available reinforcers. For many dogs, but not for tiny ones, a head halter gives you great control over a dog’s environment. Crates, gates, mats, doorways, fenced in yards, rooms in the house, hallway, in and out of the car: each one of these environments can be very carefully controlled to help condition a dog’s responses to distractions and exciting transitions.

But if we can’t control our own behavior, our dog’s behaviors won’t change.

So, that’s the challenge in animal training: we have to be fine with the idea that behavior modification is about us, too. I make mistakes every day, and everyone does! I open the door and the dog goes out. “Oops.” It really doesn’t destroy my training plan, it’s just our quirky imperfect style. Perfection isn’t perfect! If you don’t value mistakes as a natural part of the learning process — and powerful opportunities for growth – then maybe I’m not your teacher.

But if you want to create a plan to feel better and have more fun with your dog; if you aren’t afraid to use real “choice” (rather than force) to motivate your dog; if you expect dog training to be a lifelong activity that you do with your dog, and not just a temporary thing that you can do and it’s “done,” then  I would love to share what I know with you!


Published by

Jenny Ruth Yasi

author, sailor, animal trainer,rally, agility and freestyle competitor, owner/proprietor Whole Dog Camp, now located in Freeport, Maine. For 31 years we lived on Peaks Island Maine. Now we are sailing with our 2 dogs in the Bahamas, and will return to Maine in 2017

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