High expectations and puppy training: a match made in hell

Blog post about turning dog owners away from the demons of perfectionism
By Laure-Anne Visele, November 2014

From shameful pup to model student

My colleague at OhMyDog! told me something great last night. A student had walked in ready to murder her pup and asked: “Is that behaviour normal for a pup?”

Three weeks later, and the next set of overwhelmed beginners come in and ask “Is our dog’s behaviour really normal? Shouldn’t our pup be more like hers?” Guess who that model pup was? Yup, the lady who was screaming bloody murder three weeks before.

©Matt Hosford

©Matt Hosford

Dog training first aid

We spot the high-expectation owners immediately. They barge onto the field tangled up in the puppy’s leash, swearing under their breath and ready to sell the dog to the highest bidder. They expected puppy cuteness and deference. They got puppy tantrums and defiance.

They’re embarrassed, frustrated, … conflicted. It’s tough standing in a force-free school when you have canine murder on your mind. We can see them think: “I wanted to walk in like the calm and collected trainer of a Lassie. What the hell am I doing wrong and who gave me this lemon of a dog?”

That’s where our interns swoop in to give ‘dog training first aid’. We trained them in zooming in on the biggest problem, and fixing it quickly. Once the pup is settled, the embarrassment and frustration magically lift and the owner can relax, and take the lesson in.

©nomadic lass

©nomadic lass

That tantrum-to-settle moment is an epiphany for the owners. It gives them a little bit of hope, makes them feel a little bit empowered. So they try a spot of troubleshooting themselves. When it works, they think: “I’ll try doing my dog training homework too. You never know” (yes, we give homework) They try out the results the week after, and blow me down, the pup is performing like a little Ferrari! So they practice some more and, come the third week, the latest newbies come in and ask: “Why can’t my dog be more like yours?” Three short weeks after they were ready to throw in the towel…

A leap of faith

As instructors, we get a kick out of that transformation moment. We know how hard it is to take a leap of faith and change the way you do things; to get away from nagging and getting in coaching mode.

With every puppycidal owner who walks onto our field we take our own leap of faith: “Will we be able to turn this one around?” Time and time again, our students prove to us what their pups prove to them: we were right to invest in them.

Help with dog behaviour in and around The Hague

IMG_6639I am the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). I also run a behaviour therapy practice at Canis bonus for clients in and around The  Hague.

I graduated in Zoology, certified as a dog training instructor, and got a postgraduate specialization in applied companion 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.

If you’d like some help with your dog’s behaviour in The Hague or region, get in touch. I use evidence-based and force-free methods so your dog gets the best chance of success. Find out more on my training page.

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