Right now I’m in Hawaii working with a client, and I wanted to write a post about what I call the translation period. This is something that’s on my mind today because I’m working with a client here who has a new dog. The dog came to them trained, but I need to work with them for a while and teach them how to handle the dog.
We used to frequently get this question: “If the dog is already trained, then why do you need to show the owner how to do things?” This is a huge red flag in the training industry because there are service dog and protection dog training companies that will ship you your dog with a list of commands. We had someone local to us who had gotten a dog from a company in the Midwest that supposedly worked for seizures. They asked the company what the dog would do when the owner had a seizure. And the company said: “Oh, the dog will figure it out. Don’t worry!” I’ve seen the same when people buy protection dogs from Germany and ask how the dog will protect them. Oftentimes, the company just says that the dog will “know what to do.”
But there’s a difference between a trained dog and a robot. Unfortunately, many people and training companies don’t realize this. That’s why these companies send dogs out with lists of commands and assure new owners that the dogs will “be fine.” That’s not how it is. Dogs are living creatures with their own desires and drives. Just because they’re trained for one person doesn’t mean that they’re trained for another person. Plenty of my dogs have been highly trained, yet other people couldn’t get them to listen to a thing. Why would the dog listen to a stranger spouting off commands? That’s because the “translation period” exists.
Even if a dog understands the language of training, it still needs to translate it to a new person. This comes up a lot in our bootcamps, where people bring their dogs for training and then takes them back home, or when we send out protection or service dogs. There’s a period where the dog absolutely understands what its old trainers are saying but the new owners’ tones and mannerisms are different. A dog might know what I mean when I say “heel”—when I walk and talk a certain way and do a certain thing with the leash—but that dog might not understand someone else giving that command.
The translation period occurs when an owner starts to understand the language of training. This is critical. Have you ever seen a news story about a K-9 police officer who gets in trouble because his dog was doing things wrong? Even though that dog is well trained, the officer might not know how to handle him. At the end of the day, the responsibility is on us as trainers and owners to translate the language of training: corrections, praise, motivation, and mannerisms. For a dog, none of these things are natural. Dogs don’t instinctively know how to listen to vocal commands or understand the domesticated world they live in. It’s up to us to translate it for them.
Over the next few days, I’ll be showing these owners in Hawaii how to get their dog to do simple commands like “sit.” Every command needs translation from one owner to the next. There’s a translation period. Whether you’re getting a dog from a bootcamp program or a training company or not, this applies to you. Perhaps you’ve spent time training the dog, but your spouse hasn’t: your spouse just won’t get the same results if they’re not putting in effort, no matter how well-trained the dog is.
If the dog is trained and someone has put in the effort, the next person that wants to get performance out of the dog won’t need to do the same level of work. They can just piggyback on top. However, this does mean that they’ll still need to follow certain principles and core guidelines in order to get high levels of obedience from the dog. Whether you’re thinking about your kids, spouse, or friends, ask yourself: have they done anything to translate that training? That responsibility is on you, not necessarily on them. Why should anyone be able to just come in and tell your dog what to do?
The translation period is important to understand. It’s all about taking the core things we did to train the dog and transferring them to the person we want the dog to take commands from, listen to, and have a good relationship with. Hopefully this makes sense, and helps you as you work with your dog.