Training and Expectations

Dog training is both and art and a science. Here we discuss what you should and shouldn't expect to achieve from attending a dog training course.

Written by: Helen Bannan
Published: 11 January 2023
Categories: Uncategorized

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Photo by Ivan Babydov:

What is Dog Training?

Dog training is both an art and a science. Scientific studies show us what directions we should be taking, using the kindest, most humane and effective ways to train a dog. However, each dog is a complicated being, with its own likes/dislikes, fears, coping strategies and emotional reactions. That is where the art comes in – how do we take what we have learned from science and apply it in the real world, to the dog in front of us?

For example, it has been shown that offering a reward for a behaviour (e.g., sit) increases the likelihood of the dog repeating that behaviour which is great. However, for one dog a treat is a great reward that they would run through fire for (I’m looking at the Labradors here!) but for others it isn’t worth the effort for that small piece of dry kibble that will show in their bowl later for free. The take away from this is the reward offered needs to be adapted to the dog’s value system.

At it’s simplest, training a dog is about teaching dogs to respond to a variety of cues (mostly verbal) with a prescribed behaviour. However, this does not cover all the things that dog owners want. For example, teaching a dog not to jump up is not actually a cue it is a choice that the dog needs to make on its own, without being told. Therefore, there is an element of teaching the dog life skills and what decision they need to make in any given situation. 

I see training as a two way conversation with my dog – learning what works for her and helping her understand what I want/need from her. At work, it is my job to help owners to get their dogs responding to cues with confidence.

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What is Dog Training NOT?

Dog training is not a one size fits all situations.

As a dog trainer I’ve got several ways to teach most behaviours. I start off with the most commonly effective, however if that is not working because the dog is lacking understanding or the owner’s finding it difficult then I will adjust to suit that partnership.

Dog training is not a quick fix to behaviour issues.

There is a difference between what I do as a trainer and what Toni Patching does as a canine behaviourist. I teach a dog how to produce desired behaviours while Toni works with putting the dog in the best place psychologically to deal with underlying issues, such as anxiety or reactivity.

If you think about how difficult it is to learn something new when you are feeling stressed after a difficult day, you will be part way to understanding why sometimes training appears to fail. If you bring a dog that feels anxious around other dogs into a group class in a small hall with lots of other dogs, some that are barking or excited – your dog is too busy coping with the situation to worry about the sausages that you are waving under his nose let alone trying to learn something new. In that situation, I would advise training at home and doing some de-sensitisation work around other dogs as two separate projects initially.

Dog training is not a 6week project.

Do you remember everything you were taught in school? I know I don’t! In order to keep your dog’s skills sharp, regular practice is best – if I paid you £100 the first time I asked you to run over to me, then quickly stopped paying you and expected you run to me “because I asked you to” initially you might start to walk over, then one day you would lose interest altogether and prefer to chat with your friends. Over time, you would forget what was being asked of you when I called.

Once a behaviour is solidly understood you will be able to train less often to maintain it. 

Photo by Karolina Grabowska:

Where to start with Dog training?

I start working with each dog by picturing what I’d like from them in an ideal world. For example, my first dog, Honey, I imagined taking lovely walks off lead, her playing with other dogs, going to the pub for lunch with her, taking her to work with me (I was a Personal Trainer at the time). Whereas, my current dog, a Working Sheep Dog called Molly, my future vision has the same lovely walks but I would add an agility career and learning to turn off and rest when needed (tricky for a working breed). 

The differences in the end goals have shaped my training with both Honey and Molly. Honey I needed her to learn to sit, lie down, be relaxed with people and dogs, come when called, not chase livestock, walk nicely on lead and be able to keep out of the way when I was working with clients. Molly’s training plan is quite different, she needs the basic commands, but her recall needs to be another level, she needs to learn drive and motivation, how to control her body at speed, the commands/obstacles that are unique to agility, how to listen to me when VERY excited and what the word “settle” means.

Once you have this list, you can then start working towards your goals by breaking down each behaviour that you need/want from your dog.

Controlling Expectations – my dog doesn’t listen.

I hear this all the time and my answer is a question……… 

“Have you taught your dog what no means?” 

There are dogs that appear to understand, mostly through tone and body language, others are either less sensitive to your tone of voice or what they are getting out of what they are doing is worth making you annoyed with them over! 

So, if the thing you are asking your dog to do (or not do) is being routinely ignored, ask yourself that important question “have I taught my dog that yet?”

Once you’ve started teaching a behaviour, have you practiced it in lots of different environments, with more and more difficult distractions? A situation I see regularly is owners asking their dog to sit when a visitor has arrived, however, the dog is as high as a kite and is currently bounding about to show the visitor how happy they are. If you haven’t trained for the situation it will be eventually needed in, don’t be surprised when it “fails” just when you need it the most. 

This is completely understandable and we can use these situations as motivation to train our dogs in all types of situations to proof the cues that they know so they work when it counts. 


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