Who’s Training Whom? Dog Training Tips

Who’s Training Whom? Dog Training Tips

Did you know that if you are not actively-(being present) in training (teaching) your dog, chances are they are training you?

The reason Dog Trainers exist is because people and dogs have difficulty living together. We include dogs into our families to enjoy them and have a bond, however, there are sometimes cultural clashes where there is misunderstanding, head-butting, frustration or worse.

Fix my dog. Can you get him to stop…x?

I want my dog to behave. My dog doesn’t listen to me. My dog only listens to my husband. The reason dogs are abused, neglected, relinquished, abandoned, or tortured, has its part to do with the human end of the equation. Yes, you read that right. It’s time we take responsibility for our misunderstanding of ‘normal’ dog behavior and that we often unintentionally train undesired behaviors.

Dog behavior is often due to a relationship to its environment and to the patterns of its human(s).


Basically when I get called in, the human is often looking for a dog that is under great stimulus control around high levels of distraction and is totally focused on them and the human wants the dog to comply, to make it convenient for the human, in certain situations. Understanding people behavior is almost as important as understanding how dog’s learn and use functional analysis to solve a problem.

In a lot of cases, the dog has learnt how to train the human. If a dog can perceive, basically meaning being awake (see, hear, feel, smell, touch) then it’s learning something whether or not you are mindful or actively in a training session. If a particular behavior, be it naughty or good, occurs frequently enough and is persistent, this would be an indication that the animal is doing the behavior because it’s reinforcing and that it’s on an intermittent schedule.

There are two main ways any species learn:

  • The animal comes ‘hard-wired’ genetically endowed with species specific behaviors
  • Animal learning in bulk involves how experiences affect behavior

One is classical conditioning (respondent/pavlovian/associative) and the other is operant conditioning (consequence driven). Dogs are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. Someone recently told me that the ID/Intelligence of a dog is similar to a “mentally retarded” 2 year old child. Wow… that was a new one for me.

Some dogs learn our daily behavioral patterns very well and without direct “formal” training but don’t be fooled. One of you is training the other and it either works in harmony OR its misery. There are two species involved in ‘dog training’…. the human(s) and the dog.

Are you unintentionally training undesired behaviors? Are you aware of your patterns affecting the dog’s behavior?

You will find that when you start learning to train with reinforcement based ‘choice’ training, that you develop a deep respect and understanding of your learner. Through this communication you will find that your bond and trust will deepenTraining then becomes a means to ‘communicate’ with your animal in a way that is a win-win situation for both human and dog. You should also plan out how to control the environment to set the dog up for success; you should discuss with family members’ behavior rules that you follow and enforce from day one. Like: no dog around the kitchen during meal prep, no dog around the dinner table, no dog allowed on furniture, etc.

Did you know you can ASK your animal for permission… to invade his/her space for: petting, husbandry tasks, medical tasks, and more?

There are times of course, that your animal may not have a choice in the matter such as putting drops into sore ears. In this situation, I would give a warning cue. You start formulating patterns so that the animal can be in control of a situation. The basis of choice, control and communication requires that you are reliable with a predictable sequence of events. Again… consistent pattern. At Clicker Expo 2017, Eva Bertilsson, Emelie Johnson Vegh and Peggy Hogan did a presentation on just this topic. You as the “trainer” have to be aware for the 3 contingencies in behavior – Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence. 

From the animal’s perspective: “In situation A, if I do B, then you do C”

You can then have an animal requesting something from you, animals can make educated choices, and animals can then direct us in the pace and progress of our procedures.

A request (Mand “verbal” behavior) example:

  • Motivation for consequence X
  • Behavior Bx
  • Get consequence x
  • Thirsty – (B) Paw empty water bowl – (C) human fills bowl with water

Requests are important to meet animal welfare wants and needs, it is basic communication between two species, and it reduces problem behaviors (tantrums).

– Pigglet
– Lemur

Choice is about indicating what you want. If produces a “yes” or “no”, “this” or “that” answer from the animal.

  • Presentation of option
  • “yes” behavior = (C) receives it “no” behavior = (c) option cancelled

Presentation of the choices:

  • Behavior Bx = (c) gets option Cx
  • Behavior Br = (c) gets option Cr

The purpose of working with choice options is to test your learner’s preferences and it adds opportunity to control environment and/or situations – which in turn creates stability and safety. For example, nail trimming can become a more pleasant experience when you learn how to involve the dog in choice.

Lastly teaching a Start Button approach. This approach give the learner the ability to say “yes continue” or “no stop.” In either case, there is a maintaining reinforcer at the end. This approach enables us to get behavior we want, gives the animal control, can transform aversives into conditioned reinforcers, provides us with information and it teaches US to listen to the animal. There are some things to be aware of as a trainer. Don’t try to trick the animal with an unpredictable outcome. Don’t offer a choice between two evils (level of deprivation/ negative punishment) and masking “lumped” behaviors with super-duper quality reinforcers.

The key to harmony and understanding between two species is clear lines of communication and realistic expectations.

Instead of expecting unrealistic behaviors from a particular individual start appreciating the individual you have and teach them what they need to know. Find yourself a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, SF/SPCA Academy Grad, Karen Pryor Academy Grad, or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist to help you out.

Daphne Robert-HamiltonDaphne Robert-Hamilton, CPDT-KA

Daphne Robert-Hamilton is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer- Knowledge Assessed by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. She was a Certified Equestrian Coach by the Canadian Equestrian Federation before moving into the dog training world. She competed extensively with her two Doberman Pinschers from 1997-2002 and achieved being a finalist in the Top 20 Obedience in 2000 and 2002 with the Doberman Pinscher Club of America. In 2002 Daphne graduated from the SFSPCA Academy for Dog Trainers, which is now defunked. She went on to intern at the SFSPCA Academy and graduated with honors in dog aggression. Daphne became the go-to trainer in the SF Bay Area for aggression cases. Daphne has done webinars, been interviewed in several dog magazines and has written a two part article on “sibling rivalry” for The Chronicle of The Dog. Daphne was the Head Trainer for Washington state for Pets for Vets for about two years. She has fostered many dogs helping them find loving forever homes. Daphne is a member of The Pet Professional Guild.

Daphne has been married for 24yrs and currently lives with her two Rhodesian Ridgebacks in Washington State.

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