“I would give you a Cheez-it, but your mean mommy says no.”
It’s a refrain I hear from outside my office door every time my dog comes to work with me. I hear it from the other side of the table or couch if I have a friend over. I hear it in public “Sorry, your mean mommy says no.”
And it’s true. I do say no. I have expectations for my dog’s behavior and I know her well. She learns pretty quickly when food is involved, she loves to bark, and if I’m not fairly strict about treats, she will quickly revert to obnoxious begging.
The thing is, consistency is key in dog training. That’s easy enough if you’re the only person involved in your dog’s life, but most of the time, you’re not. Your dog will encounter friends, family members, strangers, housemates, and all kinds of other people who may not feel as strongly about your training goals as you do. This is an opportunity to let them know that dog training is a team effort!
So how do you avoid being “that guy” and unwittingly sabotaging someone’s training? Here are a few pointers.
Avoid: “It’s okay, I don’t mind!”
Well, this one is context-dependent. I get it. You love dogs. All dogs, no matter what. And it really is fine with you if someone’s St. Bernard tackles you and covers you in extremely juicy kisses. What’s more, you’re just trying to be nice and not make a fuss and that’s commendable. A lot of the time, when someone apologizes for their dog’s behavior (jumping, barking, begging, running up to you in public), they’re not actually in training (even if they probably should be) and so a “no worries” is sort of the right response.
The problem arises when your immediate response is to encourage the dog’s behavior. It’s tempting to respond to an excited pup with the same enthusiasm they’re displaying- “Hel-LOOO puppy!!! I love you too! Oh you want a french fry? Have all of them!”- and that’s not necessarily helpful. Instead, stay still and acknowledge the owner first. Tell them you love dogs and would love to say hi and ask if it’s okay and if the dog is in training. They may have specific instructions or requests- for example, he can have a treat if he sits and waits first or you can pet him when he has all four feet on the floor.
The best part? Either way, you usually still get to pet the dog!
Understand that there are a lot of reasons for training.
Maybe you’re a pretty relaxed pet parent. Your dog is allowed on the furniture, gets fed from the table, pulls like a draft horse on walks, and barely knows their own name. And that’s fine with you- after all, all you really want or need from your dog is for them to be your buddy, not a circus performer or etiquette expert.
And maybe you think some of this is really fussy. Why all the hullabaloo about walking with a loose leash? Why not just let the dog enjoy her walk? Why is it a problem if they get fed from the table? Who cares if they start hanging out nearby and drooling in anticipation?
Nobody has to justify their reasons for training to anyone. But there are a lot of reasons to be strict on dog training and they may be things you don’t see and understanding those may help you to leave the “your person is just being mean” mindset behind.
Some of those things are human-related.
You never know what someone’s life is like and how their pet might fit into it. While jumping on people might be fine in your life and you actually kind of love when your dog “wants to dance” or “gives hugs”, it might be a whole different equation for an elderly or disabled person. Wild, joyful zoomies are charming and hilarious… until you have a toddler who gets trampled. You might think it’s sad that someone’s dog isn’t allowed to sleep in the bed, but what you don’t know is that they have a dog allergy and rules like that are part of a greater routine to keep their symptoms under control while allowing the dog to stay in their home. There are any number of living situations, life situations, and considerations that may make training not so much a preference as an absolute necessity for living safely and peacefully in their home.
Some of these things are dog-related
There are some dogs who will just do the things you want without (or not do the things you don’t want) without much formal training. Some dogs are just barky and some are just not. Some have insatiable wanderlust and some believe there’s no place like home. Some shred their toys and some cherish them.
Something that becomes a serious issue in the life of one dog may never come up in another, not because of anything the owners did or didn’t do, but just because dogs are individuals. It may not be that big a deal day-to-day if your big friendly oaf of a dog drags you around on the leash, but what if he were reactive with children or strangers? Teaching him leash manners may be a serious safety issue. You might find your dog’s puppy-dog-eyes begging habit endearing and totally worth indulging and may think that people with a “no table scraps” policy are far too strict. But what if you had a dog who was prone to food-guarding and, because he had come to think of any food you ate as potentially his, bit someone for getting too close to him while you were munching on popcorn?
Dogs benefit from training.
People often think of training as something that’s for the human’s benefit. Housebreaking is, in the end, less about the dog’s comfort and more about not wanting dog pee inside my house. “Sit” and “stay” are useful in keeping control of your dog when necessary. “Shake” and “Roll over” are amusing and cute. Working dogs are trained to do specific things for the benefit of humans, whether it’s hunting, helping out on the farm, or assisting a disabled person with daily tasks. So it’s natural to think that someone who is strict about training is doing it because they’re just fussy and want their dog to be a perfect automation.
But training is good for dogs, too! Learning and practicing commands keeps a dog’s mind active and provides valuable enrichment. It helps them build confidence and have some direction and something to do if they’re unsure of themselves. An intelligent, energetic dog needs all the stimulation they can get and training is part of that.
Learn more about your friends’ training methods.
If you have regular contact with someone’s dog, like a friend or neighbor or dog park acquaintance, the best way to find out about their training goals is just to ask them because dog training takes a team effort. What are they trying to accomplish? How are they going about it? How can you help them to reinforce the message they’re trying to send? If someone’s training methods are a bit brutal (nobody should ever hurt a dog and it’s a counterproductive way of trying to train), this may open up a conversation and allow you to suggest some more effective and less harmful methods or tools. If they’re gentle and effective, you may even be able to learn something you can apply to your own dog. You never know until you ask!
Consistency is key.
Training isn’t something that happens strictly in structured training sessions. Every interaction your dog has influences and trains them, for better or for worse. Responding enthusiastically to a dog when they jump on you teaches them that jumping gets them praise and pets. Talking back to them when they bark teaches them that barking gets your attention.
Problems often arise when not everyone in a home is on the same page. Imagine there’s a button at the store checkout. About half the time when you push it, nothing happens. The clerk ignores you, which is weird, or just gives you a sideways glance. And about half the time, they smile and start showering you with $20 bills. Amazing! What do you imagine your takeaway would be from that situation? The next time you walk into that store, would you push the button? A dog who is sometimes being trained to one thing (like not to beg at the table) and sometimes being trained to another (like that begging at the table gets you delicious human food) will be confused, which can make deliberate training efforts ineffective.
Your dog (and your friends’ or housemates’ or strangers’ dogs) don’t understand “this is against the rules, but it’s fine just this once.” Making exceptions to rules, especially if it’s done frequently, sabotages training efforts and ultimately makes it more difficult for a dog to learn.
Training is a lifelong process.
It’s a common misconception that training a dog is like teaching the alphabet. Once they’re trained, they’re trained. Done. Adopt an adult dog because they’re already trained. Send your dog off to doggie boot camp and they’ll come back trained.
I mean, that would be nice. And sure, there are some things that, once they’ve learned, they’ve pretty much got it. Much like you don’t have to give your 12-year-old kid an M&M for going poop in the potty, your housebroken-since-puppyhood dog probably doesn’t need a celebration anymore every time they go outside. But, just as that same 12-year-old will need some things reinforced, clarified, modeled, and reiterated over and over throughout their childhoods (and, really, their whole lives), dogs don’t quit learning when they graduate puppy class.
So just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a lot of cooperation to train a dog. But the result- a well-rounded, well-behaved, confident, happy pup- is worth the effort! Your part in making that happen may be small or it may be vital, but either way, you can make it positive.
Need someone you can trust on your side? Our pet care team has your back! While you’re working to exercise your dogs’ minds, let us take care of exercising their bodies! Book an extended walk for your four-legged friend today- a tired dog is a happy dog!