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Written by George Fisher


Despite your best efforts, sometimes training won’t be effective without professional help. Human behaviour is primarily a series of repeated habits that we have learned to be effective over time. So most of what we do is similar to a computer running a program that reacts to the signals we enter via a keyboard.

When our computers crash, we have to go inside to work out what has happened and when our own human brain spots an error in itself we become stressed and have to go into our own brain consciously to resolve the problem. In some cases, humans may need an external teacher to help them overcome the problems in their own brain or that of their computer. So getting help is something we all need sometimes and it should not be something to be anxious, embarrassed or worried about. Indeed, learning to seek help when needed is probably the smartest thing we can do for ourselves, our dogs and our computers!

In terms of their ability to resolve emotional problems, dog behaviour slots somewhere in between a computer and a human. The result is that in some situations, they choose a behaviour that we approve of, such as moving away from a sheep, wandering back to us on a walk and sitting quietly in the corner of a café waiting for attention. In other situations, their choice of behaviour is to chase a sheep, not to check in with owners and not to sit and wait for attention. Just like the computer, an external teacher may be needed and if that teacher is the owner, then they too may need a teacher to help them manage their dog in more challenging situations.

Most dogs behave well, despite what humans do, and so they don't need much training. Others, however, need a lot of help. The owners’ use of past experience with other dogs, books, magazines, the internet and a friend’s advice may sometimes provide the information needed to teach their dog how to behave. However, this approach is fraught with danger and may also limit progress, so you reach a ceiling where no matter how much you try, and no matter how many books or friends you ask, there is just no more improvement.

The reasons for reaching this ceiling can be numerous and may include that the owner just does not have the right information to hand. This is because there is far more misinformation available than the right information on how to teach dogs. Another reason may be that the information is correct for the dog, but it has not been transferred to the owner in a way that is appropriate to allow the owner to learn and apply it. If you think teaching dogs is a challenge, then think again; changing the behaviour of humans is far more challenging than any dog training.

It is also common that inconsistency is causing the problem. You may not be aware of this, as don't forget all behaviours are primarily habits, and it is hard to get into the habit of recalling your dog 20 times on every walk if you have not practiced it and been encouraged by an effective teacher, trainer, instructor or counsellor.

If the basic information is correct, the owner understands it, is applying it and is overcoming old habits then very often the ceiling in training is reached due to there being other factors involved.

Reward for good behaviorCommonly this can be the dog is frustrated, fearful, anxious, bored or may even have medical problems that are slowing down the learning process. Without gaining an accurate diagnosis of why the training is not effective it is not possible to move forward and seeking more poor information, no matter how well intended, can actually make the problem worse. For example, the use of aversive training such as throwing bottles, shouting at the dog or leash jerking isn’t necessary to change behaviour and very often just makes the problem worse. It is rather like assuming that getting angry at your computer and banging it with your hand will make it work again. Yes, occasionally it does work, almost everything works sometimes, but more often than not you get a sore hand, a dented computer and hefty bill when your IT support arrives to sort out the mess.

The answer to resolving training or behaviour problems is to seek professional help. To safeguard the welfare of your pet, and to be confident that your concerns are treated respectfully, DEFRA and the Government refer to the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) with respect to trainers and behaviourists. You can find them at and within this organisation you will find members of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (UK), the Canine Behaviour and Training Society and ASAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourists; all these organisations can also be contact directly via their respective websites.