I can still remember the feeling in my stomach — this mix of unease, confusion, and just a little bit of anger, when my dog trainer told me that I had to act like a drill sergeant to my dog.
This was years before I became a dog trainer myself, and I was in the middle of transitioning out of a career in politics while also learning to take care of a hot mess of a dog who at first was terrified of everything especially the dark and bridges (and I lived right next to two large bridges in DC she had to walk on!) and then the reactivity to other dogs came later. It was, to say the least, a little stressful. So I called up a local dog trainer, and he said he could help. Hooray!
Except as we started working together, I realized that his version of helping was … to say the least, not a fit for me and my dog.
He was focused primarily on punishment and behavior modification, which, to be fair, many dog trainers are. But the thing I couldn’t get over was how he told me that I had to act like a different person when I was training my dog.
I love my dogs. They’re my buddies, they make my life so, so much better. And naturally, I show them that love. I talk to them, pet them, and hang out with them. But this guy was saying that all of that was OK … except when I was training them. Then I had to act cold, and harsh, and unforgiving. Almost like I didn’t like them at all!
If a person acted that way towards me — loving one minute and cold the next — I’d be out of there as fast as I can. (And I bet you would be too!)
And that’s why I ignored him. I had a sense that my dogs didn’t need me to turn into a jerk around them, they needed me to actually train them. So I got certified to train dogs myself, and now here we are.
I never, ever tell my clients that they have to act like different people when they’re training their dogs.
It’s ineffective, and nobody enjoys it. Not you, not me, not the dogs. Because the thing that so many dog trainers don’t seem to get is that this whole training thing? It goes both ways. You have a relationship with your dog, which means that when you’re training your dog, you matter.
Your emotions, state of mind, daily interactions with your dog — all that stuff matters. And to try to ignore it in favor of some robo-owner nonsense is a waste of everyone’s time.
So consider this your official “permission slip” to be yourself when it comes to your relationship with your dog.
Might you need to shift some behaviors? Sure. Might you need to learn some new habits when it comes to play and discipline? Absolutely. But you still get to be you in this whole process — and if any dog trainer tries to tell you differently, you need to find another trainer!
Got a dog that’s driving you crazy? I can help! I love helping dogs and their owners shift out of aggressive, anxious, and just plain frustrating behaviors and into loving, happy relationships. Find out how I can help you here.