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Training with Compassion and Respect

Throughout all training, you must respect the dog. Respect the dog, its history and experiences, its learning process. More than a few times, I have seen people rescue a dog, often a stray off the streets, have it for a month or two, and be bewildered by its fear and aggression. Their reasoning is the dog has nothing to fear now, since it’s got a loving home, and the aggression is just plain uncalled for.


Now obviously you’ve got to change this behavior (I’m not saying that it’s acceptable!) but if you come at it from a place of “This is ridiculous; you need to stop this right now,” you are completely disregarding that dogs past and experiences.  This may be a dog who has actually had to fight off or run from dogs who were trying to attack it, resorted to growling or biting to defend the only food it will get to eat that day, or been chased, scared or injured by strangers. That’s been its reality, and just because your reality is one where dogs and people are friendly and life is, at its core, safe, does not mean your dog shares or believes your experience.


When you adopt your dog, you are conscious of your decision to protect it, care for it and make sure it has everything it needs for the rest of its life. This was an easy decision for you; you love your dog. Your commitment is absolute. Your dog has no way of knowing any of this. To him you are just another person; he has no way of knowing your intentions or plans.


“Training with compassion and respect” is one of those ideas that can be too general or too vague, so here’s some specifics to keep in mind.


1)      Give the dog enough time. All dogs learn at different speeds. Some may be very slow. Many learn more slowly than we’d like; humans in general tend to prefer instant results.

2)      Look at your own training and handling before declaring a lack of success is the dogs fault. Is your training and handling something that a dog can understand?

3)      Look at your training plan – while any specific method, technique or plan may have worked for you in the past, this is a different dog, and might need a different method.

4)      Do not force the dog. With a very few exceptions in emergency-type situation, force is never a good idea. It may get the job done in the short-term, but over the long term you are eroding the dogs trust in you.

5)      Do not make fun of the dog. I really don’t find the “shaming” type photos on Facebook entertaining. I do not appreciate owners calling their dogs name “Dummy,” “Stupid,” or “Jerk” or worse. Your dog is not a dummy, not stupid, not a jerk. Anthropomorphic name-calling is absolutely unhelpful, and every time you label a dog in a specific way, you are further reinforcing your perspective of him as such.

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