Let’s not set us up for failure

By QK Owner, Jennifer Broome

Very rarely do dogs actually ‘fail’ our puppy, obedience or gun dog training programs. When failure happens, regardless of the reason, the QK trainers take it personally for the simple reason: we care; we take pride in our work and we are always rooting for the dogs!

What exactly IS ‘Failure’? On the extreme, failure may be a puppy or dog in the gun dog program that consistently has no interest in birds (no prey drive). In this instance, when a dog will not chase a bird, we will not introduce or expose him to gunfire as this could cause catastrophic noise sensitivity issues. If we cannot hunt and shoot over a dog, we ‘fail’ to create a hunting dog in our typical 4 to 6-week gun dog program. BUT…is this true failure!? It may be ‘failure’ to achieve our desired goals and in standards in a set, desired time frame however often there are factors that led to our lack of success in order to meet these goals. For instance, a very well-bred German shorthaired pointer may enroll in our program at 6 months of age. Throughout its puppyhood this guy was yelled at for chasing the neighbor’s free-range chickens, he may have gotten frightened by fireworks, or even attacked by the family pet parrot. Suddenly, this is a pup that may ‘fail’ at normal, standard introductions to birds or loud noises because this pup had negative early experiences prior to coming to us. BUT, with nurturing, patience and time this dog could certainly blossom into a fine hunting dog as long as the owner understands this dog needs more time. In 6 weeks of training, we may accomplish Foundation obedience, e collar conditioning, manners, patience and socialization with wonderful success, however, we ‘failed’ to actually be able to hunt and shoot over this dog in our normal time frame simply because we had to train the dog we were given. Forcing the dog on birds or gunshot could produce irreparable damage when the dog simply needed more time to mature, process things and overcome past issues. We often experience that if we give the owner specific rules and homework to practice obedience and off leash handling while the pup matures and gains confidence, the pup comes back to us rearing to go, and often eager to show us ‘the real dog’ and chase prey with enthusiasm and gusto. Now we can proceed with the hunting program. The dog did not truly fail, he needed more time. Again we need to train the dog we get!

Can a puppy ‘fail’ our QK Puppy Camp program? In our 2-week puppy camp program our specific goals with puppies 6 months and under are to work on crate training which involves patience, no barking, relaxed downtime and not messing in their crates. We work on leash manners, touch all over to desensitize, we teach the pups to follow us as their Leader and we work on basic obedience on leash for sit, heel, down, come to heel position and go to a kennel or place all with gentle leash cues. BUT, what if we are given a 5-month German shepherd mix that had never been crated, she can climb out of the owner’s 6-foot fence, and this highly intelligent, active, under-exercised puppy is already anxiety-ridden and is an effective escape artist? UGH!!!! Well, in our structured leash program I am pretty confident that we will achieve the leash work with the basic obedience; however, it may not be to our normal success as this pup already weighs 65# and has learned to drag her owners and bark at all other people and dogs. She has an ingrained reactive behavior due to her desire to work, guard, herd animals and solve problems. She lunges when on leash and has only gotten stronger and more effective with dominating her owners over the past 2 months. In this case, we are not only trying to teach our Foundation leash obedience, light leash cues and communication, we have to step in with authority and intense Leadership to correct the ingrained problem behavior. This is NOT going to go over well with this pup because she has felt that SHE was the leader previously, and she was very content in that role. She IS going to challenge us with biting, fighting, or bolting off. While a pup like this takes much more intensity as far as correcting the bad behaviors, they are often willing and thankful to take the role of following our structured Leadership as that gives them a job and something to burn mental energy. The other task is to work this pup intensely with physical exercise to completely exhaust her so that she can calmly, quietly and successfully crash fast asleep in a crate and accept the downtime. It is an uphill battle, and a pup like this will take longer than 2 weeks. Our goal is to ‘rewire’ her brain with lots of rules, Leadership, exercise, socialization and obedience so that the ‘real dog’ can come out. A dog that is worked physically and mentally is a stable dog and one that can easily have an ‘on and off’ switch. Sadly if they were never taught that early in life, they are stuck in an anxiety-ridden dominant state and it is stressful and exhausting to the dog. This is a dog that would most likely ‘fail’ our 2 week puppy camp because it is a project. The failure came long before our program when this pup was never crated, exercised enough or put in her place when she exhibited aggressive or obnoxious behavior.  Once again, we must train the dog we were given!

How can a dog ‘fail’ our 4 week Foundation Obedience Program!? Well, I will bring up some examples. If you fill out our Obedience Assessment form on our website and check off things like: I rough house and wrestle with my dog, I leave food out all of the time, I have a doggy door, my dog has full run on my home, my dog just exercises in my yard, I have sibling dogs or two dogs the same age, I admit I don’t have time to train or even exercise my dog, my dog is destructive in my house, my dog is already over 3 years old and is aggressive/fearful/overweight/not well-socialized/bit people…. Well then YOU have already failed your dog. The above comments are just a few of the things that put a dog into the Leadership role, or ones that give the dog too much freedom and not enough rules and structure. Unless YOU drastically change the way you interact with your dog and the rules that you set, both you and your dog will fail. Why did the dog have all of these allowances? Did you not know any better, did you not care, or did you think that these allowances were perfectly fine?

The QK Obedience Program is extremely successful for many reasons. As soon as we get a dog, we evaluate it physically and behaviorally taking diligent notes. We then put the dog into a very structured lifestyle with lots of exercise to physically exhaust them, we use a patience chain to tie them out while as a pack while we work dogs all day. The dogs learn to lay around and be calm and still, waiting their turn, and then individually we interact with strict obedience and use patience, persistence and repetition to teach leash work to go, stop and come. Each day the dog has a job, an exercise regime and usually great social interaction that is strictly supervised to deflate any red zone or dominant behavior right away and enforce human leadership.  The recipe…. “A Tired, Trained Dog is a Happy Dog!”

We use these practices over 4 weeks and typically accomplish wonderful leash and off leash obedience, rules, manners and respect. We train the dog that the owner gives us. We train with lightness however we increase our intensity to enforce when the dogs fail to comply with our lightness. Firm but fair, we hold the dogs accountable. When we gain the dog’s trust and respect through our consistent Leadership, many of the behaviors that the owner complain about go away. Resource guarding, not coming when called, lunging at other dogs, pulling on the leash, anxiety about…(a,b,c), jumping, etc. are all behaviors that arise from a dog acting in a Leadership role. Are they being bad… or are they being really good at what you failed to provide so they simply take over?

The QK 4 week off leash Obedience Program teaches a dog to follow our Leadership. The dog learns better respect of humans and is given a job to behave. The human must hold the dog accountable at all times. The dog learns to walk politely with us on and off leash, come to us, be still and go lie down. The structured obedience combined with the appropriate age/breed/athletic ability exercise requirements make nearly all dogs happy, healthy and stable.

The clients and dog who ‘fail’ this program are those that do not carry out the teachings and consistently enforce the obedience. If an owner enabled a dog to pull on the leash, jump, bark, or do ANY undesirable behaviors for any time longer than 4 weeks, then more often than not that same owner is going to be complacent about carrying out the training. A dog is not a robot and 4 weeks will not produce behavior that is automatic. The 4 week program teaches the dog the obedience, rules and structure that was never learned. Only then do time, patience, consistency and diligence produce a dog that is actually consistent in its new behavior. It is a TEAM effort with the trainer, the dog and most importantly the owner. We train the dog we get, and you must follow through and train the same way with new-found structure, rules and Leadership.