Is Someone Sabotaging Your Training?

Do you ever get the feeling that someone in your household is undermining your dog training efforts? Maybe you have even invested in dog training advice, and a spouse or child does not follow through on the training recommendations the way you’d like.

You are not alone. Many of my clients fret that someone in their family is not on board with training. On top of not helping, the rogue family member may even complain that the dog does not behave as well with them.

What are you to do? Here is my advice:

  • Be grateful that the would-be saboteur is so involved with the dog as to potentially interfere with your training. Be glad they care enough about the dog to engage with him or her. Even if one or two training issues aren’t resolved as quickly as you’d like, it is probably all going to work out fine in the end.DogLickingSpoon
  • Try to be patient. After all, since they are not as involved in the training, your half-hearted helper may not be as quick to recognize, prevent and solve annoying doggie habits. So they may feel frustrated that they are not seeing the results you enjoy. The more they see you in action, though, the likelier they are to adopt the successful techniques you are using.
  • Choose one thing to prioritize, and let the rest go. For example, if you are working on several things like puppy biting, chewing on your belongings, housetraining, and crate manners, pick just one of those to get the person to stick to the rules on, at least for a couple of weeks. (Meanwhile, you can continue to work on the whole list.) Puppy biting rules are good to have agreement on, since that way they can still interact with each other without making things worse. Put prevention strategies in place to make sure the other priorities continue to go mostly well. If you have an older dog past the mouthy stage, but who is still in need of potty training, affix a housetraining schedule to the fridge and get a promise that your helper will stick to it. The main idea is that focusing on just one thing will make success more likely, and it will be a lot less frustrating for you.
  • Be open to what you can learn from your family member. I once had a puppy I had big competition obedience plans for. I wanted everything to be just perfect, and worked hard to teach the puppy all the right things. At least, that’s what I thought I was doing. Then one day I watched my spouse playing with the puppy. They had made up their own game, and I could see the joy and pure fun they were experiencing together. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment, because it taught me to remember why I have dogs in the first place, and it made a huge impact on me as a professional trainer as well. Be open to what you can learn about your dog and your family, just by letting them enjoy each other.
  • Spend time with others who are also training their dogs. It is lonely at the top! Training a dog, especially a new dog, takes a lot of time, effort, planning, patience and creativity. If you are working hard at it, and you are the main person in charge of the puppy’s learning, then you may sometimes feel unsupported by those who aren’t at home as much, or who are around just enough to reap the benefits of your hard work. It helps to take a group class, where once a week you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people who understand your struggles and triumphs. You might also enjoy neighborhood walks or puppy play dates with people in the same boat. (The Puppy Social Hour is designed partly with this idea in mind, or you might try a semi-private training session.)

Finally, if you are really butting heads with your family over which is the best way to teach the dog something, invite them to the next training session. I fully expect clients to ask why I recommend a technique, or to weigh in on the way they would like to handle a training challenge, or to help predict fallout from a particular method they may be considering. Since it is my job and I am not in the middle of the family disagreement, a little objectivity is injected into the situation. A  family training session can be a good catalyst for moving forward together.

And, of course, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh. For example, my dogs aren’t generally allowed to have food in the kitchen during meal preparation, but I noticed one of them had started coming in and staring at the same spot on the floor any time I got out a bag of potato chips. A little investigation revealed that someone has been accidentally-on-purpose dropping a chip there each morning when he makes his lunch. The dog never lies…

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2 thoughts on “Is Someone Sabotaging Your Training?

  1. “Just a little bit?” is the feeling I get from this article. If any individual is sabotaging your dog’s training that person must immediately be separated from your dog. The inconsistency has to stop right away before it becomes the new normal, and that is not good for the dog or owner. Doing something not good for your dog is the same thing as doing it to your dog. If that person cannot or will not adhere to the parameters consistent with the dog’s training, that person is not to have contact with the dog. Anything less than that is a disrespect to your dog and a disrespect to you as well. If you don’t want someone giving your kid candy, you should be grateful that the person is involved enough with your kids to interfere, even as this person is continuing to give your kid candy? Extremely flawed logic. It actually sounds like a slippery tounge trying to get you to let it keep happening. I hear the same rhetoric from people who won’t respect parents wishes, trying to corrupt their kids.

    1. Thanks for reading the post, LM. People don’t often consider an approach outside their perferred way.

      I agree with you that prioritizing safety and well-being are important for the dog (heck, we all deserve that). In my experience, choosing compassion, respect and reward-based training allows everyone to be included in the family dog’s training. (Everyone except maybe ax murderers; which as far as I know, my average client was not.) Even if they sometimes goof up. And we all goof up! It’s natural. Perhaps in the future, I’ll say “goof up” and not sabotage, because I’ve never heard of someone deliberately messing up their family dog’s training.

      My experience is that solid overall training and a trusting relationship can survive run-of-the-mill training goof-ups just fine. And the dog is actually better off with more people willing to help and try, even if it’s not perfect, because s/he’s bonded with more of the family. Happy training!

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