Will Training Suppress My Dogs Personality?

I have observed in my conversations with non clients over the last few weeks a genuine and significant thought pattern that training negatively affects your dogs personality.

This worried me to say the least. Not only is it incorrect but this means people are seriously considering giving up control in order to allow their dog to be happy (at least their interpretation of happy). They are making a conscious decision to allow their dog to ignore them, because he’s too exited, he’s playing, he’s eating possum crap or he was distracted by the other dog, the list of excuses never ends. That is a very dangerous decision to make.

I’m lucky, dealing with serious behaviour problems on a daily basis I get to see how severe issues can progress and intensify if allowed to continue, I also understand how they begin. Every funny idiosyncrasy or quirk has the potential to develop into something more serious, whether it be running around evading you when you are trying to put the lead on, or nibbling on your pant leg when you walk. If you as the guardian of your animal facilitate these behaviours you could be setting yourself for disaster.

Now I must say at this point that I know many dogs that have quirks that have not become serious issues, but if you are a new owner with a new dog you must understand that the potential is there. Be aware and take appropriate action if you notice an increase in frequency or intensity.

A good way to think of it is that just like us, pet dogs must live in moderation, a balanced life of fun, exploration, exercise, affection, stimulation and training. If you saw your neighbour constantly washing his car every day, or screaming at his wife to come back every time she left for work in the morning, you’d think he was not quite right upstairs. So why is it okay when our dogs display intemperance?

Dogs only begin these behaviours because they have found reinforcement in them, in fact behaviour cannot continue without reinforcement of some kind. As the cycle continues and the behaviour is still being reinforced it will intensify. Then perhaps at times the behaviour is not reinforced, unfortunately this only serves to increase intensity as the dog is confused and tries even harder to attain that reinforcement. Such is the nature of all dogs. This is why you will hear dog trainers all over the world preaching, dogs grow in to behaviours, not out of them.

It never happens to you until it happens to you.

Now let me dispel this myth that training changes your dogs personality. When performed correctly dogs enjoy training and the fact that someone’s dog is holding position because it’s been asked to in no way translates to the dog not being happy.

In fact if your dog is not happy performing a stay it is generally because of values that you the owner have instilled from the beginning and you only have yourself to blame.

Training can and should be enjoyable for both of you, if you see an excessive amount of submissive body language and generalised inhibition then too much force is being used. The secret lies in a happy medium where the dog understands restraint and exhibits impulse control around distractions but looks happy to do so. When released from position the dog should spring up and show the same animation that it always displays during “free” time.

Using the excuse “I just want my dog to be able to be a dog” doesn’t cut it. A dog is the most highly adaptable animal on this planet pre programmed to take cues from us, don’t demote them, they’re better than that.

You can certainly have a well trained happy and expressive dog and its what all owners should aim for.