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— September 10, 2013 —

Training Setbacks
by Daniel McElroy

Training a dog is not a linear process. It’s a, “Three steps forward, one step back” kind of a deal.

I recently had a conversation with a client. She has a big beautiful German Shepherd Dog who is usually excited to see her. Excited may actually be a bit of an understatement. By excited, I mean when she has been away for any amount of time, he goes absolutely nuts when she returns. We have worked on this and made some improvements, in fact, she says overall he is getting much better.

A few days ago, however, her husband took the dog to the park. She met up with them an hour later and he went completely insane. He was barking, screaming, lunging like he would absolutely die if he didn’t get to her right away. It was so bad, someone actually offered her my business card for help! (I think I know who you are and thanks!) We are still working on this guy and will be for a while yet.

In another situation, we have a nice American Bulldog mix who lunges at dogs on the walk. She is dog selective and the owners have experienced her having squabbles with some dogs. In playtime, I do get a “vibe” from her that makes me think that we have to keep a close eye on her. As she has progressed in her training, she has been getting better and better with her lunging. They also have related that she has had better days and then there are days where she acts like there has been absolutely no progress.

The reason I am writing about these dogs is to illustrate a point. I tell every single training client that training their dog is something they do for the life of their dog. It is not a linear process with a beginning, middle and end. It is an activity that will be with you for as long as you have him. You will absolutely have better and worse days. You should expect this and be prepared to work through the rough patches.

Our boy Gunnar, who was highly dog selective, never got over his desire to fight with dogs who he viewed as “out of line.” He didn’t exactly correct the dogs that annoyed him. He really let them have it. He had to be handled carefully around other dogs for his entire life. While we didn’t really have to set a training schedule with Gunnar, he always had to be managed and yes, this is still training.

So, if you have a trainer and you are working on an issue, evaluate your progress objectively. If you can honestly say that the training is working, and your dog is getting something out of it, then stick with it! Yes, there are lots of trainers out there and you may run into the end of a particular trainer’s ability. If this is the case, then a change may be in order. You cannot, however expect every day to be better than the day before. If you stick with the training and do the work, you will get through it. If you let your dog frustrate you and give up, your problem behaviors will return with a vengeance.

So keeping this in mind, go out there and train your dog. Work with them and show them how to handle situations. If they do well reward them, if not work through it. It reminds me of a picture I saw recently. The caption was, “If at first you don’t succeed, try doing what you trainer told you to do in the first place.”

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