A confession:

Look, I’m just going to put this out there.

I can talk dog-training all day long. I’ve read the books. I’ve taken the online and the in-person courses. I’ve talked to the best dog trainers in my city. I know the theories like the back of my hand.

But I’m a terrible dog trainer.

I am short tempered. I scold Silas for barking, even when I know better. Even when the voice in my mind says the whole time, “Where, exactly, is this getting you? Is this really the kind of person you want to be?” It just . . . comes out.

I have slow reflexes. When the behaviorist told me to kneel down and pet Silas for good walking, he was always four steps ahead by the time I got to the ground. I’m young-ish and reasonably fit. I’m just slow.

I can’t remember the rules in the heat of the moment. I sent a training video to his behaviorist, and she pointed out that I was doing something completely obvious that I knew I shouldn’t have been doing.

Even worse, I am too soft-hearted. I don’t mean too soft-hearted for physical corrections, which is a different kettle of fish entirely. I mean, I make too many exceptions. These range from “Oh, it’s okay for him to do [insert problem behavior] here, because he’s nervous” to “I dropped his cookie, so it’s okay if he breaks his sit.”

If Silas were (no offense) a dumb, happy dog, I could probably get away with all of this stuff. Alas, he sees right through me.

12 thoughts on “A confession:

  1. I’d hate for a trainer to ever videotape me and point out all the mistakes I make with Blueberry because I know there are plenty! I guess I’m just not that rigid about training because Blueberry is so sweet tempered, pretty relaxed and when she is breaking a command, it’s just not the end of the world to me. If she were a service dog or a therapy dog I know I’d have to up my training standards – but she isn’t.

    I had a bit of a short fuse with my dog Copper (now deceased). It really bugged me that I would lose my temper with him (he used to bark at other dogs not because he was aggressive but he was just saying ‘Hey I am over here, let’s play!’ and nothing I did ever corrected the behavior completely. It drove me bonkers. I tried a citronella spray collar, treats to distract him, an actual water bottle I’d squirt at him and of course the ineffective yelling. I finally gave up the yelling and would just call him in the house or would make sure there weren’t any dogs around when we went to the vet (we’d wait outside until it was his turn) or when we went for walks. I thank God every day that Blueberry is not a barker. That’s probably one of those behaviors along with scent marking that are the hardest (for me anyway) to try and correct.

    I still believe you are doing an excellent job with Silas. Hey, you aren’t perfect and neither is he. You both do the best you can and the point is – you haven’t given up and you keep trying. There’s a lot to be said for that.


    1. Thanks. You do a great job with Blueberry, too–you always look out for her.

      The barking is KILLER. The behaviorist says that it’s best to ignore or interrupt in an entirely neutral way (like moving them away from what they’re barking at), because almost everything that you do to stop it is rewarding. The attention of scolding is rewarding, but so is giving them a cue. It is very unnatural to ignore a barking dog, especially when you live in a townhouse.


  2. I’m glad you wrote this! I’m dealing with some training issues with Kaya right now and I’m always losing my cool! Afterwards I remind myself that it gets me nowhere but it’s hard. On the other hand, Norman is the dumb, happy dog:) But Kaya sees rights through me and tests me every minute. Glad I’m not the only one!


    1. It’s funny with Silas. He is *so good* at the actual training stuff that I never lose my temper. It’s the lifestyle stuff that gets to me. Barking, his deep need to hump my pillow, refusing to come inside until he’s found the perfect rock to chew. That stuff.


      1. Oh ya, same here. When I work on training exercises, she gets it in an instant while Norman stands there dumfounded, but stuff like patience and being calm is her nemesis while Norman excels in the category:)


  3. This is SO encouraging for me to read today! I feel the exact same way. I’ve read all the books and I can espouse all the theories… but I am a really lazy, impatient trainer. Ugh. It’s somehow comforting to just admit it, though. I would get so irritating in our training classes, because our trainer would always praise my husband (who has read NONE of the books and knows NONE of the theories!) for his timing, for his body language, etc., and tell me that I needed to work on it. Le sigh. Anyway. I’m at least encouraged to know that I’m not the only one who feels this way.


    1. Hey, at least your husband is good at it! Mine doesn’t read the books and doesn’t listen to most of my rules, either. Which is why Silas still jumps up on him when he comes home from work.

      In our training classes, Silas was always at the far end of his leash in some kind of fugue state. I could have been wearing a bacon hat and it wouldn’t have made any difference. I knew he couldn’t help it, but it was hard.


    1. I’m not sure that any of us manage to never say “No!” EVER. Honestly, I’m not sure that that’s the best thing for the dog, either. People who pride themselves on never scolding their dogs for anything usually get to that point by obsessively controlling what their dogs can and can’t do. (Constant crating, use of head-halters, etc.)


  4. I’m 99% sure that Hurley is smarter than me and more successful at training me to give him those treats than I am at getting him to work for them. So then I work with Sadie, my dumb, happy dog who makes me feel like the best dog owner & trainer in the whole wide world 🙂


  5. Oh, I talk the talk all right. I like Feeling Superior to people and also Showing How Smart I Am.

    However. I also will yell at Elka if that’s the short way to ending/redirecting a behavior. And that stresses her out, and makes me feel bad and like a total idiot because I know better. The reproachful look she can muster is a nearly human “Why are you acting like that?” and really twists the knife.


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