“He’s a terrier - he’s never going to come when he’s called!”
“You can’t teach a spaniel to listen. Their attention span is only a few seconds”
“My dog’s thick. It’s a waste of time teaching him anything.”
Really. People say these things. And they become self-fulfilling prophecies.
If you truly believe that your terrier will never come when he’s called, then guess what? He never will.
If you really think that your spaniel is incapable of focus, then you’ll never put in the work needed to build a team with him.
And if you truly think your dog is too stupid to learn anything, you have a cast iron excuse for never bothering to teach him.
These are all lazy, get-out, clauses. You got a dog - you thought it would be a good idea - then found that it didn’t come with training and manners installed. You were expected to add these yourself? Oh no! Work required - application, dedication, education, understanding, patience … This all seemed too hard. Much easier to claim that your dog is untrainable and leave it at that.
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I recently had an email which read: “I have two dogs, one is a perfect companion and the other is a challenge. She has many good points but does not take no for an answer and is very disobedient when she appears to be totally deaf.”
So her first dog is perfect, and the second is not. (I wonder how much this had to do with the individual attention that No.1 got, while No.2 was tossed into the mix to sink or swim?) Her dog is disobedient, she doesn’t listen, and won’t take no for an answer.
What a lot of labels in a couple of sentences! This poor dog is always going to struggle against her owner’s preconceived notion that she is difficult, stubborn, and uncaring. Whatever she does will be perceived as wrong, or potentially troublesome, while Dog 1 gets all the praise for being a goody-gumps. (Any of you younger children out there may recognise the same thing from your own family life, where there was one favoured child and one difficult one.)
And it’s likely that when she does do something right it’s either not noticed or greeted with “For once! At last …”
This dog needs a program of training which caters to her own individuality, her own quirks and foibles. You cannot blossom when continually compared with someone else - you have to have a pride in your own achievements, done your own way.
So my reply to this owner was along these lines:
“My dogs don't understand the meaning of NO either - why? I never say “no” to them. “No” doesn't give them any information about what you'd like them to do - only that you're cross with them. Try focussing only on what you do want, and rewarding that. Totally ignore what you don't want. Give it a week and see where you are!
This is what a puppy-owner said to me this week:
“Just thought that I would let you know that your brilliant idea of rewarding for the behaviour that we want has helped Odin to become a very calm and patient puppy when it's our dinner time. He will lie down nicely and play with his toys while we're eating. :)”
This took her about 10 days to achieve.
Come back to me in two weeks and tell me how you get on.”
Sadly I didn’t hear from her again. So I guess Dog no.2 is still being shouted at.
As the famous saying goes, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you always got.”
There has to be change for change to happen. And the first change is in your mindset! All our dogs are capable of being trained, of learning new things, and of fitting into the household comfortably. Yes, it takes time, and all that dedication and self-education, understanding and patience, mentioned above. But is it worth it? What do you think?
But what about my terrier / spaniel / dumb dog?
• To see just what terriers are capable of, take a look at Jesse the Jack Russell Terrier. You will be amazed!
• Think of what spaniels are bred for - hours and hours of tireless work in the field, focussing on one thing only - finding birds. They are capable of laser focus - if the reward is right you can teach your spaniel to focus on anything you like!
• And as for our dumb dog … it’s true that some dogs are not blessed with as many brains as others. Cricket the Whippet will never beat Rollo the Border Collie in an initiative test, though if there is food to be found - she’ll find it! Her phenomenal speed is in her legs, not in the workings of her brain. But she has plenty to offer, and once you’re on her wavelength you can teach her some very un-whippety things to do. Cricket - and Bolt, another whippet I know - have great retrieves.
You see? Her gift is in making us laugh!
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