Confessions of a Dog Trainer: When Your Dog Teaches You He Is Not a Robot

Posted on September 24th, 2012 by FetchMasters in Positive Dog Training

Today, I took my dogs out for a romp in a nearby field so that they could burn off some steam. About five minutes into our expedition, I noticed my coonhound, Roscoe, had his nose to the ground behind some weeds. I called him, and he did not come.

That is unusual for Roscoe, who is very well obedience trained and proofed in high-distraction environments. I called one more time (a mistake I often remind clients not to make, as it has the tendency to convince your dog that obeying you is optional).

When I got to Roscoe, he was face-deep in a rancid raccoon corpse. I told him to “leave-it,” another command he is very good at. But he buried his face deeper into the putrefied, gelatinous goo. Determined not to repeat that command too, I went for his collar.

Roscoe responded by ripping off a piece of … whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it and ran away from me. His tail was not between his legs, though. It was wagging happily, and his stride was spry and confident. He and I both knew he had just taught me a lesson: he was capable of doing what he wanted, and his obedience to me was voluntary.

I joked on Facebook that I had yelled things at Roscoe that would have forever sunk a human relationship. But a trainer friend of mine (Michael Curran of ClickerLogic), who is uncannily brutal (and accurate) at pointing out the true significance of things, plunged his forceps into my soul and extracted the truth: I was devastated that my dog (whose reliability I constantly brag about as if it is legendary) had humbled me. As a trainer who specializes in off-leash reliability, some things hurt worse than others, and I admittedly felt a little betrayed by my knuckle-headed dog.

But that’s OK; a true dog trainer is not beaten so easily. Tomorrow, I will find the raccoon, put Roscoe on a long lead, and teach him that walking away from it yields a mouthful of fresh raw meat instead of a mouthful of rancid raw meat. Hopefully it is a suitable substitute.