I’ve quit counting how many times I’ve started this post and never finished it. My thoughts go winging off in so many different directions that it’s easy to lose track of the points I intended to make. Please bear with me while I get this random collection of loosely related thoughts out of my head.
Have you ever been advised to imitate someone else in terms of training your dog? In other words, has a well-meaning instructor/friend/observer/passerby suggested you “be more like” someone else because their dog is so fantastic – just do what they do and certainly all your troubles will disappear?
I’ve encountered this occasionally over the years and it always feels a bit awkward. While there’s nothing wrong with admiring someone else’s training style or the relationship they share with their dog, it may do very little to help you with your own dog.
My biggest problem is that the “be more like So and So” approach ignores the individuality of your dog and the value of the relationship you’re building.
There are a number of trainers I sincerely admire and while I may draw ideas and inspiration from them, they are not me and their dogs are not my dog. Simply trying to plug in their methods and expecting them to work is not very realistic.
One lesson I learned early as a trainer was never to compare myself to another trainer or more importantly, to never compare my dog to other dogs. Everyone’s journey is different. Although some days it may seem like mimicking others is the easiest route to achievement, that can only make things harder in the long run because instead if focusing on who your dog is and what he needs from you, you’re just following a formula that worked for someone else.
Which brings me to the title of today’s post: “Train the dog you have.” Don't train your current dog like he's your retired dog who was brilliant. Don't train him like the dog you WISH he was. Don't train him like he's the dog you believe he can become in the future. Train him like dog he is NOW. Evaluate his strengths and weaknesses and tailor your training accordingly.
It’s easy to become enchanted with a training approach that is completely wrong for your dog but “everyone else is doing it” so you jump on the bandwagon, too. Been there! Often, the hardest thing about training your dog is learning the best way to train your dog.
Unless you’re one of the truly blessed trainers who gets everything right the first time, training throughout a dog’s career is often a matter of trial and error. That’s not what anybody wants to hear but it’s often the reality of pursuing any level of achievement. I think the best trainers (winning ribbons does not necessarily equal being a good trainer) are those who aren’t afraid to experiment and try new things to help their dogs learn. If they feel a conventional, traditional or currently popular method isn’t giving them what they want, they modify it or seek another method all together. Perhaps the popular method will be right for your dog in six months. Maybe it will never be right.
In spite of what people may swear, there is no single “right” way to train a dog. If Trainer A gets lovely results with one method and Trainer B gets lovely results with a different method and both methods are fair and humane and taught with compassion, is one method “better” than the other? Of course not.
The error isn’t in trying a training method that produced wonderful results for someone else. The error is in not valuing in your dog’s individuality as well as the value of the relationship and journey you share together. Train the dog you have.