Tell the truth: How many of you got a dog even partly because you love training dogs soooo much and you couldn’t wait to devote hours every week to dog training? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Actually, you guys probably skew the results a bit; I would hazard a guess that people who pay for a subscription to a dog magazine are more interested in training and behavior than most dog owners.
But my point is, the average dog owner doesn’t get a dog because they are so excited and eager to study learning theory, compare classical and operant conditioning, and test the relative value of various reinforcement schedules. Few people who get a dog look forward to practicing their leash-handling skills and refining the subtleties of treat delivery timing and placement.
No, most people get dogs because they want to enjoy canine companionship! They get a dog to walk with and talk to, nap with, play with the kids, or guard the house or property. Most people intellectually understand that it will take some time and a little effort to teach their new dogs the new house rules. But it seems that very few people remember or realize how much time it really takes to teach a dog everything she needs to know in order to live in a human’s home in a human society, without making any errors that could result in the loss of said home. And nobody anticipates ending up with a dog with serious behavioral issues! Few people are prepared when their new dog or puppy develops separation anxiety, canine compulsive disorder, a pathological fear of children, or a dangerous aggressive response to the sight of other dogs.
And yet, our dogs depend on our ability to train them and to take appropriate and effective action if they develop behaviors that are in conflict with the home, schedule, and family we have imposed on them. If we fail to succeed in our new roles as amateur dog trainers and their behavior becomes problematic for our family (say, growling at Grandma or the baby), or neighbors (barking all day), or the dog they just met at the park (where an off-leash dog runs up too fast and our dog badly bites the other dog in the melee that results), they could lose their homes or even their lives.
So, even though I am a total geek about learning theory and behavior analysis and absolutely anything having to do with teaching dogs and humans to enjoy and understand each other better, I understand that not all dog owners are up for all that. My goal, and that of Whole Dog Journal‘s Training Editor Pat Miller and all of our contributing writer/trainers, is to help you understand how to teach stuff to your dogs, in the simplest, most effective, and most enjoyable way possible – with a sprinkling of nice, modern behavioral science and theory thrown in for our fellow training nuts.