Two Labradors lying on sofaWhat a great evening I had with a lovely family and two wonderful Labradors. Black Lab Joey, four years old, is probably one of the calmest and most easy-going Labradors I have met. Golden Milly, also a rescue, is just one year old and a lot more bouncy.

Her lady owner is very committed to Milly’s training, taking her to regular classes with plenty of socialising and doggy daycare. Milly is a very bright and loves learning.

Sometimes there can be a bit of conflict, in my opinion, between what is learnt in formal training classes and the sort of behaviour that is needed for real life. My views may not be popular with everyone.

I myself prefer the dog to be allowed to work things out for herself rather than being given ‘commands’ to get her to do regular daily things. Commands (I prefer ‘requests’ or ‘cues’), have their value in situations where the dog is unable to make the right choice by herself in order to fit in with life alongside us humans.

A dog who is allowed to work things out for herself will become a lot more attentive without repeated commands thrown at her and, importantly, the dog will feel she has choice.

If one were to add up the number of times Milly has been told to sit and wait at the door before stepping out, it must run into hundreds. Does she still need to be told? If sitting at the door is what she wants, the lady simply needs to wait and after all this time Milly will sit eventually I’m sure. She may need to open the door slowly and be prepared to close it again if Milly gets up too soon – but she no longer needs to be told.

It’s the same with the jumping up. Conventional ‘training’ will probably teach the word ‘Off’ or else ask the dog to sit. I wonder how many times Milly has either been told to get down, to sit or been pushed down. Hundreds? Sure, she may get down in the moment but she will still jump up the next time and with the next person. This is causing problems when they have guests and when they meet someone when out. Milly only jumps up because it’s still rewarding to her in some way. If people only making it really rewarding when her feet are on the floor, she will work it out for herself.

The lady wants Milly to sit on a mat beside the stairs instead of jumping up at the stairgate and then onto her when she comes down in the morning.  About five stairs from the bottom she says ‘Mat’. To get her to stay there she has to keep repeating ‘Mat’ until she gets to the bottom.

How many times will she have said ‘Mat’ as she comes down the stairs, I wonder. Hundreds?

I’m sure, if she just waits, Milly will do as she has now been repeatedly taught. The desired behaviour needs reinforcing – the lady can drop food over the rail to Milly as she descends all the time she stays on the mat. If Milly gets up, the lady can step backwards and start again. She need not talk – in fact words will probably distract Milly.

Without my help the lady is already doing brilliantly with Milly. She’s a dog to be proud of.  I hope, however, that changing the emphasis to from obeying commands to encouraging the dog to learn some self-control and allowing her to work things out for herself will contribute that bit extra richness to their relationship.

Imagine how annoying it would be for you if every time you walk out of the room the same person says ‘Shut the door!’. You’ve got it!  You are going to shut that door! If you keep being nagged maybe you will rebel and stop shutting it!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Milly. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).