In this post, I want to address what dog training really is. I have a very linear mindset, and I’m always trying to fit things into a logical, “A-to-B” framework. When I do reduce dog training to its core, I come up with one concept: controlling outcomes. If you can manage that for a long enough time, then you’ve trained your dog.
That begs the question: what does it mean to control outcomes? You can start by thinking of all the outcomes you want from any given scenario. For instance, say my doorbell rings. One outcome is that my dog jumps all over the place and barks like crazy. That’s not an outcome I particularly want. A much better outcome would be my dog going to his bed and lying down. If I can get him to do that enough times, then my dog is trained. But I absolutely need to control that outcome. I need to make sure that my dog will come to me, leave the door, and stay put.
My job, as I present it to clients, is to control outcomes. This makes sense. The problem is convincing people to think about their dogs in these terms. It’s a lot more natural for us to think: “This bad behavior is happening and I want it to stop.” We tend to think about what’s going on right now. In reality, you need to plan for the “now.” You know someone will ring on your doorbell, or that you’ll run into another dog on the trail, or that you’ll have your dog off-leash on a camping trip someday. It’s your job to plan and train for those things.
If you can control outcomes over and over, you’ll be able to eliminate behavior problems. Then you have a trained dog—and your life is much, much happier.