If I were to ask any dog owner “Would you like a well trained dog?” they would likely say “Yes!”.
Then if I were to ask the same owner “Would you like a well behaved dog?” they would likely say – “You just asked me that!”.
These two terms, well trained and well behaved, are similar and often used interchangeably to describe our dogs. Perhaps more often the opposites are used too – badly trained or badly behaved!
To me however, these terms mean quite different things – in this blog I want to explain what they mean to me and why having a well trained dog might not be the best thing you can hope for…
Well trained to me means a dog that has been taught basic cues and behaviours to a reasonable standard. The training has been effective enough to allow the dog to learn when owner says “Sit.” the dog lowers its rear to the floor. It may also mean the dog can down, stay, return to the owner when called and leave an item when asked.
I am definitely not going to be so contrary as to say this is a bad thing! I think a solid foundation of behaviours such as this is crucial for the safety of owner and dog, not to mention how it makes owning a dog more enjoyable and manageable on a day to day basis.
There are also plenty of fun and unusual tricks that dogs can learn with their owners – I don’t see these as frivolous or unnecessary either – on the contrary I think that this kind of engagement between dog and owner helps to build a strong bond, exercises the mind and body for both human and dog, and showcases just how dynamic and effective positive training can be.
One such example was at DogFest in Windsor last weekend where at the Clever Dog Company stand trick competition a rather unassuming delightful lady and her beautiful 5 year old terrier Rosie calmly asked – “Can we have a go?”. They both then proceeded to wow the crowd with a frighteningly efficient, calm and cool display of cup stacking that was precise, impressive and so blasé that it actually made it even more incredible to watch.
Rosie and her owner were clearly very attached and had an awesome training relationship – topped off by the calm sit from Rosie as she waited for her food payment for completing the trick, tail wagging softly as she went. It was a wonderfully understated feat and Rosie was calm, in control and content from beginning to end.
Then as soon as they both came, waved off by a smiling crowd and Clever Dog Company team (including me!), owner and dog trotted into the distance.
Impressive as training is, not to mention positive and highly skilled training, a dog that is only well trained does not to me mean that dog and owner will be happy and content (although Rosie was well trained, well behaved, and very calm, comfortable, charming and gentle along with it).
Training our dogs responses to cues, basic commands, or even fancy tricks often describes a dog that does what you want it to, when you ask.
Which is great right?
Except that this is probably less than 1% of an average day – even if you ask your dog to sit before everything you are only asking, and they are only doing, for a small proportion of the day, week, month, year or lifetime.
So what about the other 99% of the time?
What use is a dog that will sit on command, execute a perfect down stay for 10 minutes or weave through your legs if it is terrified of being left alone, reacts to people and/or dogs, pesters you for food at the table, gets into trouble with dogs off lead in the park or is so boisterous in the home that everything breakable has been well and truly broken?!
Before I go on, this is not an attack on dogs like this, indeed many rescue dogs end up in kennels for one or many of these reasons! This is why they can be more challenging (and rewarding!) to adopt than other dogs, and this is why I am magnetically drawn to working with them. I am rather trying to paint a picture that there is a lot more that can be done to effect our dogs behaviour for the better, than just training.
Dogs that exhibit any of these behaviours are not well behaved in my eyes – even if they are well trained. To be clear again, this is not to say dogs are deliberately ‘misbehaving’ when they act like this, rather owners would benefit from understanding everything else that effects their companions behaviour with the exception of what commands they know. What causes excitement, fear, arousal, worry, desire and frustration and thus triggering the accompanying undesired behaviours.
These dogs haven’t been taught the life skills to cope and be comfortable, at ease and assured in the world that they live in. They may not have learned; how to interact with other dogs politely, that strangers should not induce fear or worry, that being left at home alone can actually be a fun thing or that calm behaviour gets the best rewards.
It is often hard to forget that the world dogs are born into is incredibly human focused. Here are some things dogs aren’t born knowing – and thus we need to teach them:
– what cars are
– that people other than family can be safe and nice too
– that shoes aren’t toys
– that toys are toys
– that being calm gets rewards
– that being out of control or demanding doesn’t get rewards
– that houses aren’t for peeing in
– that mum and dad will come back eventually after they leave for work
– that dogs have social rules too
– that cats, rabbits, gerbils and soft toys aren’t dinner
– that fireworks aren’t life threatening
– that coming back when you’re running off gets the best treats of all
– that walking with the lead loose actually still gets you to the park in the same amount of time
– that cushions aren’t romantic partners
– that human legs aren’t romantic partners either!
– and many, many, many more!
So what we want to do is ensure our dogs are well behaved – that they have the skills and coping mechanisms to be comfortable, calm, appropriate and happy in 100% of our daily lives (or as close to 100% as we can get!)?
There are two ways we can achieve this;
1) proper puppy training, socialisation and rearing – the preventative method.
2) positive, effective and compassionate training and behavioural rehabilitation and management – the treatment method.
In addition to either preventative or treatment based training, every dog needs several important things to be happy, content and comfortable – to be well behaved in other words. These include:
– Appropriate exercise
Appropriate to your dogs age, stamina, breed and personality. A dog that is well exercised and has their physical energy directed towards appropriate activities (walks, fetch, agility, flyball, even play) will be less likely to direct that energy to inappropriate activities.
This is a no brainer really. A dog that has the right amount and type of food (i.e. something they are not allergic to), as well as medical care as and when they need it, will be far more likely to be content, happy and ‘well behaved’ than a dog that might be lacking in these areas. An underfed dog may be prone to begging or bin raiding, a dog with untreated illness or injury may become irritable due to the pain this causes and a dog that has allergies to something in its food may lick, chew and scratch itself 24 hours a day.
Here a good relationship with your vet is such a bonus, as they should always be the only person to diagnose or treat any illness or injury. Good health is a must for a dog to be comfortable, happy and well behaved.
– Freedom for things that induce fear or worry
Understanding what scares or worries our dogs is also very important. There is thankfully a host of tools and techniques that can be used to treat fear – from uncertainty around a few things, to extreme phobias, behaviour modification programmes can have amazing results! Ensuring that you understand what your dog is worried around, if anything, will help you to try and reduce this impact on your dog’s life as much as possible – alongside a training programme to help them learn that these things aren’t that scary after all.
– The opportunity to display normal behaviours
A lot of ‘misbehaviour’ in dogs can be traced back to their need to display certain behaviours – either general dog behaviours, or ones more specific to their breed. Huskies love to run, as do sighthounds (though with a lot less stamina!), terriers like to dig, collies like to herd and use their brains. All (well all that I have met) love to chew – not only is it calming, but it also is something they need to do relatively little in modern life as food is provided in bite size chunks! Dogs also love to smell! For ways to incorporate this more into their lives see my blog on ‘Smell Walks’ here. If you can give your dog an appropriate way to do any or all of these things it will help their behaviour too. The frustration that builds when a dog has natural urges that cannot be expressed can often lead to misbehaviour of many kinds.
So to summarise a well behaved dog is one that is well trained – and lots more on top. A solid foundation of consistent and positive training the basics is mutually beneficial for both dog and owner – as is a little extra training just for fun!
Along side this a well behaved dog needs exercise, both physical and mental, the right diet, the right medical care when they require it, not to be scared or worried day to day, and to be allowed to do things that most dogs were designed to do everyday.
Lastly, they need you.
They need your company, your attention, your time, your energy, your love, your patience, and often your opposable thumbs to open those tins of dog food!
Dogs are unique in the world as they are the only animal so intrinsically tied to human life and us humans ourselves. They love our company (some more than others), but spending time with us, socialising with us, and playing with us are all essential things for our dogs too.
I would bet that the better behaved they are, the more enjoyable these things are for you too. By all means please keep up the motivation to keep your dog well trained! But maybe have a think tonight about how you might help them be a little better behaved (and happy, and content, and secure, and comfortable) too.
Then the next time someone compliments you on your well trained dog, you might be tempted to smile and say – “Actually I like to think that he is well behaved.”.
Then when they ask “Isn’t that the same thing?” you can point them in the direction of this blog…