The helpdesk syndrome of dog training

Blog post about the sod’s law of dog training
By Laure-Anne Visele, November 2014

About the author

IMG_6639I am the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague) and run a behaviour therapy practice at Canis bonus. I graduated in Zoology, certified in dog training, and got a postgrad specialization in applied animal behaviour. When I am not training or rehabilitating dogs, I obsessively review dog books and write about dog behaviour for my own blog and other websites.

I swear he never does that!

That all-too familiar phrase. The one you hear your friend mutter as her dog is humping your leg underneath what’s left of your Sunday best trousers.

I’ve noticed the opposite too: when my clients want to show me the problem all is quiet on the misbehaviour front. It’s like just having called the dog trainer made the problem disappear… Until the trainer in question is out the door. This makes teaching how to stop a dog from jumping up a legendary headache among trainers, as the pups tend to chose that moment to offer the world’s most beautiful unprompted sits…

Training Munchausen by proxy

Owners can describe your dog’s behaviour until their face goes blue, nothing beats letting the trainer seeing it with their own eyes. So we try to set the dog up when it’s safe and ethical. Sure enough, nine times out of ten, sweet nothing happens then and Fido behaves like butter wouldn’t melt.

©Beverly & Pack (Flickr CC)

©Beverly & Pack (Flickr CC)

I can practically hear my client frantically thinking: “She’s going to think I have training Munchausen by proxy. Go on, Fido, misbehave already!”

It’s like when you call PC support only for your PC to magically start working again. And the second helpdesk guy is out the door, Mr. computer goes all “error 50210” again. And don’t get me started on Doctors’ midnight house calls.

Aherm, this is a class for REACTIVE dogs

I had to chuckle today when I was on the client end of the deal. I was having my own dog screened for a reactive dogs class and he just wouldn’t show any reactivity. The problem I’d like fixed is tiny but I figured it would be a nice way of getting back in a class environment. It’s just that he chases everything and everyone away if I lie down on a blanket in the grass to read a book in the park. The second I stand up, he’s an angel. But for some reason, he feels the need to defend me when am lying down.

The trainer was trying to play the stranger but Rodge was having none of it, ingratiating himself to him no matter what angle he approached us from. I was amused by catching myself having that exact same thought my clients sometimes admit to me: “He’s not going to believe me and I am looking verrrrry weird right now.”

©eleni boulasiki (Flickr CC)

©eleni boulasiki (Flickr CC)

I suspect what’s happening is that the trainer is never a fresh stranger as they’ve spent a bit of time chatting with the owners before the test. And I also hope that most trainers are pretty on-target with putting dogs at ease. We tend to automatically offer appeasement postures in response to signs of stress in the dog, sometimes without even realizing it.

It got me thinking: “Maybe there’s a market for fresh strangers”. It’s a good job opportunity for someone who doesn’t mind being jumped on, barked at, or knocked over. The good news is it’s for the good of canine-kind. The bad news is… am not paying you!

Dog behaviour problem? Get in touch

If you’d like some help with your dog’s behaviour and you’re located in The Hague or region, get in touch. I use evidence-based and force-free methods so the dog gets the best behavioural care possible. You can find out how it all works on my training page. And of course, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to offer your services as a fresh stranger!

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