In this post, I’d like to share some of my thoughts about how boring dog training is.
Now, I don’t mean what you’re probably thinking! Training is my profession, and it’s also been my passion since I was a teenager. I love it. But I’ve had a few experiences recently that helped me realize how boring “good” dog training really can be.
This morning, I did an assembly this morning at a school that’s attended by a young girl with a service dog. The dog does a lot of cool stuff. If she runs off, he will find her. If she has a panic attack, he will help her calm down. He makes sure she doesn’t go into tantrums or fits. But 99% of what the dog does on a typical day is heel calmly by her side, lay down next to her desk, and come when she asks him to come. That’s what he does, day in and day out.
The assembly was primarily geared toward telling kids to leave the dog alone during school. The school didn’t want students to be petting the dog, talking the dog, or feeding the dog. Afterwards, I opened it up for a few questions. A kid raised his hand and said, “All right, can you show us the cool stuff the dog does?” And I said…well, not really!
This dog’s trainers put thousands of dollars and tons of time and effort into working with him, and at the end of the day he looks pretty boring. All that training went into having a companion that can simply hang out and be a help when needed, and that quality makes him an amazing service animal.
Another situation that hit me recently was a dog who had aggression problems. We showed the owner a video of the dog heeling and staying down around other dogs, as evidence that she was doing very well. The owner was thankful, but a few days later she sent a message that said: “When are you going to show me the cool stuff she’s been learning?”
In my mind, I already had. The dog had previously been trying to attack every dog she saw, but now she was doing so much better.Then I put myself in the owner’s shoes for a minute and realized that it did actually look kind of boring. What was her dog doing? Mostly down stays and heeling and lying in bed. But this is what the majority of dog training looks like.
All of that effort goes into ensuring that we can hang out with our dogs without them making bad choices. That’s it. Is it thrilling to watch a dog go on a hike? Nope. It’s not interesting to see a dog just walking calmly behind its owner. But if it’s a dog that used to run off and get aggressive, then it’s amazing training. What’s so interesting about the dog that keeps his owner from having meltdowns and running away? Not much: he’s just heeling calmly next to her side.
So I understand that perspective. Sometimes it’s frustrating to put in so much time, money and effort into just having a dog that doesn’t do stupid stuff. At the end of the day, that looks pretty boring.
There are plenty of fun things that we can train our dogs to do, but most of existing with a dog—whether as a family pet, a companion, or a service animal—doesn’t consist of that cool stuff. It’s just hanging out.
Keep that in mind. It’s not uncommon for someone to call me and say “I have a problem with my dog. She’s really well-trained—she shakes, she rolls over, she begs on command.” A lot of people think that the ability to do lots of tricks means that a dog is well-trained. We do protection training, and it’s a lot of fun to see the dog jumping on a bad guy. Some people do agility training and tricks, and those activities are also very cool. But the reality is that none of that stuff matters.
You can always spot a really well-trained dog. Just look for the dog who’s calmly existing and not making bad choices. In other words: they’ll look pretty boring.