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Your training methods can make or break your dog

Why does your training style matter for your dog's future behavior?


Dogs are one of the first animals to ever be domesticated. All this time spent amongst humans has made them more human-like compared to any other species including the non-human primates like monkeys and chimpanzees. They are easily trained and very obedient. Their personality depends on their guardian. If you are a positive person and train your dog in a positive manner, you will have a loyal, loving and protective companion. However, if you train in a negative manner, things may just go downhill.


Dogs are highly intelligent creatures
Dogs are highly intelligent creatures 

As per Sir John Lubbock (1889):

That the dog is a loyal, true and affectionate friend must be gratefully admitted but when we come to 
consider the psychical nature of the animal, the limits of our knowledge are almost immediately reached.

Despite being so close to humans, every year millions of dogs are submitted to the shelter due to so-called ‘behavioural problems’. 1 out of 5 eventually undergoes euthanization. Behavioural problems thus contribute as a significant factor to premature death in domesticated dogs.

Every dog is trainable:

I have read in a ton of Facebook groups and online forums that dogs belonging to certain breeds are untrainable. I have probably heard this most about Afgan hounds, Basenji, Beagle, Indian Pariah dogs and so many more.

First of all, let me make one point very clear. No dog is untrainable. Every dog can be trained. However, it is up to the guardian or trainer to find out what makes the dog tick. We need to understand that every dog is different and responds to the same stimuli in a different manner. Just the way that people belonging to different countries have different attitudes, but that does not mean that people belonging to a specific country cannot learn a new skill when taught. Similarly, every dog can be trained. Some are easily trainable while others need a little more coaxing and patience.

I am currently working with 9 dogs who live in my locality. They are all Indian Pariahs. Each of them has their own unique personas, so different yet so similar. I will be describing each of their personalities and how to train dogs with such personalities in my next blog post.

The situation with Delta:

I am the sole trainer of my boy Delta. Since I rescued him, I don't have an accurate idea of his breed. However, by his looks and behaviour, he seems to be a Basenji mix. He has a very defined personality. He does not like to do things until he sees himself receiving a reward in return.

Normally, people would say this is a stubborn and untrainable dog. However, I say that such dogs are more intelligent. They like to question everything they are asked to do. They would do it only if they feel it's worth their effort. This is a sign of higher-level intelligence.

Delta is highly intelligent and food driven
Delta is highly intelligent and food-driven

If other dogs can be trained to follow a specific command in one day, Delta will need training for 3 days to follow the same command unconditionally. On the other hand, with other dogs, I can only expect them to understand and learn one new command at one go, while Delta can learn up to 3 commands at once.

Delta is also moody, so I must judge his mood before starting his training. To train dogs like Delta, respect, patience and understanding of their behaviour is needed. If you understand your dog, training is a piece of cake. Unfortunately, most people who return their dogs to the shelter due to behavioural
issues either fail to understand their dog’s personality and behaviour or do not dedicate ample time to
work and mould that behaviour to suit their needs.

In this article, I aim to discuss a recent study which has made an attempt towards understanding the
association between psychological status and personality of the dog guardian and the presence of
behavioural problems in their dogs.

What has been observed so far in relation to dog behaviour?

So far, scientists have found the following correlations between the behaviour of dog guardians and their dogs.

A study done in 1995 in Cambridge University found that dogs who had guardians expressing higher
levels of neuroticism (worry, depression, loneliness, jealousy, anger, frustration etc) were observed to show higher levels of behavioural problems like destructiveness, aggression, sexual mounting and
attention-seeking behaviour.


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How training affects your dog
How training affects your dog

Another study done in 1997 found that when the guardians were shy, tense and emotionally unstable,
their dogs (in this case English Cocker spaniels) were more likely to be aggressive. The study was conducted on the search and rescue dogs deployed at the Pentagon and World Trade Centre after the
9/11 attacks, found that the PTSD and depression levels of the handler can be used to predict the development of attention-seeking behaviour, aggression as well as separation anxiety in their dogs.

What was done in this particular study?

This study was conducted at the Center for Canine Behavior Studies, Salisbury, CT, the United States of America. As a part of this study, 1564 surveys of dog guardians were conducted. The scientists used questionnaires to assess the personality of the dog guardians.

The surveys were designed to measure the following:
  • The personality of the dog guardians (depression levels, emotional regulation).
  • Use of aversive training methods.
What are aversive training methods:

Aversive training methods can be defined as a method which involves Using a shock, choke or prong collar, jerking the lead to stop wrong behaviour etc. Basically using negative reinforcement to ensure correct behaviour.

Dog guardians who used aversive training methods reported that their dogs displayed
  • Owner directed aggression
  • Separation problems
  • Persistent barking
  • House soiling (pooping and peeing when left alone)
  • Stranger directed aggression
  • Chasing

What was the conclusion of the study?

Thus the bottom line of this study is that positive reinforcement is the only way to go when it comes to properly train your dogs.

It is definitely easier to train a puppy. But just like human kids, puppies are unfocused. You need to
invest time in teaching one command followed by repeated use of that command multiple times in
one day for at least a period of a week to get perfect results.

However, if you are training an adult dog, take the time to understand your dog, his/her likes, dislikes, mood and overall personality. This will give you a fair idea of when to train, which treat to use and how many times to repeat the training until your dog can respond to the command even in sleep.

Bonus tip: When training your dog, make sure to use the command at different times of the day. Make the timing unpredictable, so that your dog learns that he/she must respond to the command at any and every time of the day.

Conclusion:

Dogs are love-hungry creatures. They will do anything to please you if you have their respect and love. 


Thus, when you choose a dog as per the training capacity, do not make the decision according to how easily a particular breed can be trained. Decide according to how much time and patience you can invest in training. Even if you want to teach your dog to hug, you need to understand whether your dog is ready for the same or not. Your dog’s personality depends on you, not on the dog. If you are happy, your dog will be happy. If you are sad, shy and depressed, your dog will become aggressive.

Your dog will learn from you, so be a good role model for your pup.


PS: If you like this article, please share it with your friends and leave a comment. Let’s help dog guardians everywhere become a better version of themselves.