Here is a difficult topic to talk about. When I was in police canine services, we would have certifications once a year and I certified hundreds of dog teams. Some handlers were just poor handlers. The dog had the right drive to work, but the handler was a lousy handler. The team (dog and handler) did poorly. Why were some dog handlers good and others bad? It all comes down to lack of leadership, lack of praise and lack of structure.
Lack of leadership is basically who’s in charge. Does the dog make the decisions or the handler? The handler better be the one making the decisions. The dog doesn’t get to choose who he bites, the handler does. A police dog that gets to choose who it bites is an out of control dog. Leadership is seen in who eats first, who goes through the door first and who is in charge when the dog is on a leash. Who’s leading who?
Lack of praise affects the dog’s work. Does the dog move slow and seem depressed? That is due to lack of praise. Does the dog seem disinterested when searching for drugs? If the dog looks like it’s bored, it’s because the handler is not making the game fun. Poor handlers like to stand around with their leash in their hand and watch their dog do all the work without interacting at all with their dog. You need to make the game fun. A fun game makes an enthusiastic dog.
Lack of structure is a lack of rules. Is the dog allowed to act like a vicious monster when in the cruiser? That is a lack of structure; the dog should shut its mouth. The dog learn to shut its mouth because you will never apprehend a crime in progress when the suspect can hear your dog barking a mile away. Lack of structure is the dog busting out of the cruiser as soon as his door opens. The dog should wait until he is told to exit by the handler. Structure is waiting and following its handler through a door. Structure at home also affects the dog’s work. Is the dog allowed to hang around the dish washer and lick dirty plates as you load it? Does the dog steal food, or does the dog run away? Ever hear of a police dog running away or the handler losing his dog? It happens more than you know- I read about missing K-9’s a couple times a year. Again, this is due to lack of structure. Police Canine Handlers all go through the same training, so why do some get it and some don’t? Instead of doing the hard work of being a leader, giving praise and having structure for the dog they spoil the dog. It’s easy to love on our dog but the real work is being a good handler. It’s like parenting, as when sometimes you need to be tough on your kids, the same goes for dogs.
Here comes the tough talk now. There are pet owners that are just lousy at their job as well and it is for the same reasons. Lack of leadership, lack of praise and lack of structure. In our group classes I can tell who is training at home and who is not. If the dog won’t do a down stay at home, it certainly isn’t going to do it in group class. If your dog won’t stay on place for 30 seconds while you walk away at home, it certainly isn’t going to do it in group class. I can tell who puts the time in and who does not.
Placing a person that’s a lousy dog handler with a dog with reactivity issues is a bad combination. Now you have an out of control pet that is going to end up biting somebody or another dog and it’s not the dog’s fault. It’s the owners fault for not sucking it up and being a good dog parent. Parenting isn’t easy. You must set rules, have structure and consequences. When the dog is doing it right, praise the dog. If the dog is misbehaving correct the dog. “No” means nothing without knowing what no is. There should be some sort of pressure paired with no, so the dog understands, “I better not do that, that was unpleasant”. We have reactive dogs in our group classes and 99 percent of the time the dog is calm and being good. The handler just stands there ignoring their dog. When your dog is calm and being good, praise them! Pet and tell them how good they are. If the dog is eating up your love he’s not paying attention to the dog that’s walking past him.
As a trainer I do my best to educate and train the human side of the dog team. I do my best to try to communicate what to do and when to do it. Some people just don’t get it. The good part of this story is 99% of our dog parents do get it and work hard. They make changes in their home life with their dogs and they have a happy, well-behaved pet. It’s a wonderful part of my job hearing the success stories of dogs we have trained. Stories like “he chased a deer last weekend but he stopped and came back when we called him” or “we went camping last weekend and our dog was the best-behaved dog in the campground”. Being a pet parent takes commitment and work. You need to pay attention to your dog and praise on a timely manner but also correctly communicate with the dog when he’s misbehaving.
If you are having difficulty with your dog, schedule an evaluation with us and if you are committed, I am sure we can make things better.