If You Don't Use It You'll Lose It!

Last week I had a consultation with a family that ended with them being in a bit of shock. They brought me a very excited one year old Labrador Retriever and as they began relating to me some of the problems they were dealing with it came out that they had done a board and train with another trainer a few months ago. They said they were really happy with the results for the first few weeks but that slowly things had begun to regress and now they felt like they were nearly back to square one. When they asked me what training program I recommended for them I told them that I would recommend they start by calling their first trainer back. I was met with some surprised faces!

From everything they told me it appeared that the first trainer had done a great job, they felt like because the dog had begun to regress that the trainer must not have done a sufficient job in training. So I flipped things around a bit and tried to help them see things from my perspective; I said, “Let’s pretend for a moment you made a New Year’s resolution to lose ten pounds and run a six minute mile. You decide to hire a personal trainer to help you meet these goals. After three months of working hard with your trainer you hit your goal. You’re happy with your achievement so you quit the gym and quit seeing your trainer. You get back into your old routine and before you know it you’ve gained the ten pounds back and you’re running slower than molasses.” At this point I could see things starting to click for them. I then asked, “Would you be upset with your trainer?” They all answered unanimously that they would not be upset with their trainer and agreed they would be upset with themselves. It’s silly to consider blaming the trainer for us getting fat right? The trainer gave us the tools we needed to improve, but then we simply quit using them!

My good friend Tod McVicker at www.RedeemingDogs.com said it best a few months ago; “Training a dog is like training a muscle, if you quit working that muscle it will cease to perform as it once did.” One of the things I love most about dogs is the fact that they are living, breathing, emotive beings. They have good days and bad days. Unfortunately this also means that unlike robots we can’t just program our desired behaviors into them and expect that those behaviors will continue forever.

I had to let this family know that if they decided to go with one of my board and train programs they would most likely face the same results unless THEY were willing to change. You can un-train a dog far faster than I can train one. Any training program will offer your dog an understanding of the mechanics of what they are taught, but without proper reinforcement you can always expect that a dog will begin to regress. I let them know that if their previous trainer was unwilling to work with them I would be happy to step in and help, but that they would probably see the most success by getting back on track with what the other trainer had taught them and that most trainers would be happy to do a little follow up lesson to assist them.

As dog owners we have to accept the entire responsibility of dog ownership and that includes lifelong training for your dog. Dogs are opportunistic and if they feel like they can get away with things with you, but not with your trainer you’re going to see major differences in behavior. Do your best to emulate your trainer. Follow their instructions, and keep up with it! There’s no such thing as a “Fully Trained Dog” you’re in this for the life of your dog. I got a pretty cool phone call from those people yesterday letting me know that their first brush up lesson with their trainer had gone wonderfully and things were getting back on track even quicker than they had imagined possible.

So get out there and exercise those training muscles!

Thanks for reading. I’m Adam@TopDogTX