Canine Q & A: What’s the Most Difficult Part of Dog Training for Most Owners?

Canine Q & A, where we ask several professional dog trainers to share their insights on the same question. 

This week’s question: what’s the most difficult part of dog training for most owners?

“The most difficult part of dog training for most owners? Changing their own behaviors, how they interact with their dogs, and learning to stop talking and listen more. Most owners talk "at" their dogs and get frustrated when their dogs simply ignore them. Learning to talk with body language instead of their mouths is difficult for most. Learning to be quiet and patient and try to truly listen to how their dog feels as well as respond properly takes time. Once dog owners understand how to communicate in a language dogs understand, everything else becomes much easier.”
—Troy Bodgen, Paws to Trains Your Dog

“The most difficult thing in dog training that I come across is: the dog won't listen to the owner. I think the answer to that is that most of them just hook a leash up to the dog and expect to go. They don't take the time to build the relationship through the leash and teach the dog what they are expecting. At that point, they are frustrated with the dog and that conveys through the leash.” —Amanda Jensen, Dogs Behavin’

“A few thoughts came to mind when I looked at this question.  These are the issues I spend the most time working through with owners. 

First of all, I find most clients have trouble learning to relax with the leash.  Even though they understand it’s important for the dog to feel they are relaxed, it’s about muscle memory and having to rewire their own brain to respond differently.  Even when everything is calm and they are nicely walking their dog in a heel, I will see them tense, put pressure on the leash, lift their arm and/or wrap the leash around their hand.  It’s one of those things that doesn’t change automatically if you’ve been doing it your whole life.  Even more challenging is getting them to relax when there is an external stressor like another dog.  It takes awareness, time, trust and practice to master this new skill.

Another biggie is repeating commands.  Again, even though they see how much more effective it is to say it one time, many owners are in the habit of repeating themselves as their voice gets louder with more urgency/frustration. 

Consistency is another issue.  Keeping the mental and physical exercise going over the long-term can be difficult for people with families and demanding work schedules.  Most owners are hugely motivated when they begin training.  To help keep the momentum going, each owner receives printed instructions with ideas and games they can easily play with their dogs in short sessions.  I also offer free Sunday morning off-leash pack walks to clients.  The owners who take advantage of these walks get the added benefit of additional socialization with other balanced dogs, practice their newly learned skills under my supervision/guidance, and confer with other owners about their own experiences.  I know this has made a significant difference for owners who participate.  Bottom line, owners that get the most out of training appear to be those who want their dogs to be included in some part of their active lives.  People who jog, camp, hike, go to doggie friendly restaurants/Starbucks, visit friends with their dogs, play, etc. tend to have an easier time and a better result over the long term.” —Susan Del Signore, New Dogs Old Trix

“I feel the most difficult part of dog training for owners is understanding the foundational steps necessary to solve their predicaments. In most cases, clients consult with me wanting a very specific issue tackled which is vexing them in everyday life. Taking the time to explain, and having the owner vested in the process, the importance of creating productive, long lasting behaviors to fully resolve the issues takes time, repetitions, and accurate timing. For example, it may require that the owner create multiple behaviors (and hence, a couple weeks of training preparation) such as leave it, sit, and watch to start the process of retraining a reactive dog in a controlled environment before putting the dog back into the real world. Not only does the dog need to learn these coping mechanisms/default behaviors, but the owner will need to hone their skills to 1) predict a problem, 2) have the physical skills conditioned into their muscle memory to respond, 3) put the repetitions in so that the dog responds appropriately.” —Tami McLeod, Baja Dog Training

“What I find to be the most difficult part of dog training for most owners is realizing dogs have their own needs and those must be fulfilled. They think dogs come preprogrammed and should just know how to behave. When they start a training program, they realize that isn't the case. Then they have to work hard to do what is needed for each individual dog. We always hear "our other dog didn't do this,” or "our other dog didn't need these things.” Every dog is so different and it varies in what is required to keep them happy and well balanced.” —Brittany Brauer, K9 Guidance to Inclusion 

Thank you to all of these trainers for taking the time to respond to this Canine Q & A. Some really insightful quotes and perspectives to think on!

The biggest themes I see are changing your own habits, tuning into your dog, and investing the time. In my experience, owners really struggle with that last one, and without the time commitment none of the other pieces can fall into place. Learning to communicate effectively with your dog is essential for a healthy relationship, and is so much more complex than simple obedience compliance. Don’t expect results overnight! Sure, a dog can learn some obedience commands in a week, but to truly change their behavior and how they think about & respond to certain situations can take weeks or months, not to mention some dogs need a lifetime of behavior management. Behavior modification requires owners to be tuned into their dogs, and to work with them at every opportunity, which is an investment that many dog owners struggle to make room for. However, for those who do put in the time, the pay back in ten fold. Living harmoniously with your companion and finding that mutual understanding & respect is a beautiful thing.