An article in “Cell Metabolism” last month talks about a recent finding that reminds me, in many ways, of my approach to training dog owners. The author writes that it’s not what we eat that matters as much as how we eat it! The study showed that mice can eat whatever they want and won’t gain weight as long as they limit the time they eat. In other words, eating too many calories or a diet high in fat does not make mice obese as long as they fast for at least 16 hours a day, five days a week. I often tell dog owners, “It’s not what you do that matters, but how you do it.”

Playing Tug-of-War with your dog illustrates this concept. Most books and trainers say that you should never play Tug with your dog because it can make your dog more aggressive. It absolutely can make your dog more aggressive! If you drag your puppy around the house all day on a rope she is going to become more aggressive. But, if you play Tug the the way I advocate, not only will your dog not become more aggressive, she will become less aggressive! It’s not whether or not you play Tug with your dog that’s important — it’s how you play Tug that matters.

In the first session I show the owner how to feed their dog, put their dog into a sit, play tug, let the dog out the door off the leash, and claim a space. I tell the client, “You probably won’t master anything I showed you today after seeing it only one time! It’s all in the fine details of how you do it and nobody masters it after seeing it once. You’ll practice. It won’t work. You’ll be banging your head against the wall in frustration. The next time we meet, I’ll watch you do everything we covered today, and show you what you need to change to get it to work.” This is why it is extremely difficult to learn how to change dog behavior from reading books or watching videos. It requires coaching by someone who can show you what to look for in your dog’s behavior and how to respond to it in a way that’s going to reinforce the behavior you want, and at the same time discourage the behavior that you don’t want.

Most dog owners get their knowledge of dog training from reading about training online and from talking to other dog owners.  The information from these sources often includes lots of rules with little or no instruction. Don’t let your dog on the furniture! Don’t let your dog walk in front of you!  Never play tug-of-war with your dog! The list goes on and on. Many dog owners try to implement these principles, with limited success. These “laws” of dog training are an oversimplification and are not absolute mandates. There are very few absolutes when it comes to changing dog behavior. Success lies in the fine details of how you do what you do!

There are only two unequivocal rules that I sanction: 

 1) Never hit (or even raise your voice to) a dog and  

2) Never put a head harness or choke chain on a dog. For everything else it depends on the particular dog, situation, and the fine details of HOW you the owner are carrying out your interactions with your dog that determine if training will be effective. Some people find it frustrating, but I always question preconceived notions, especially before I attempt to change any behavior, whether it belongs to a dog or me. There are very few things that I take for granted or apply universally without question.

The training process is further complicated by the fact that what works for one dog in one situation may not work for another dog or in another situation. Both dog and owner are individuals with unique needs and expectations. This makes finding the right approach to changing a particular behavior challenging for most dog owners! A recent client told me that trying to do what I showed her was like trying to learn to pat her head and rub her tummy at the same time. And that was after I showed her exactly what to do! She wasn’t referring to trying to figure it out on her own. Every time I meet a client for the second time, after they have had the chance to practice the techniques covered in the initial session, I am reminded how many ways there are for things to go wrong and how easily it happens. Just remember, “It’s All in the Details!”
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Debbie Harmon

Another awesome article Jamie!!!! Thank you

Jaimie Scott

Thanks Debbie! I’m glad you like it.

Ken Taylor

God job on this blog….I always enjoy your post and am remind of what Kathy and I learned from you. Max and Jax are aging well and we still have control of them. We think of you often and look forward to seeing you sometime in the near future. Hope things are going well with you in Sacramento and the Pineapple Express didn’t dump too much rain on you recently.

Jaimie Scott

Thanks for the comment Ken! I think of you guys and Max and Jax often too and look forward to seeing you before long.

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