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, despite the immense amount of quality training I had done with him.

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, 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, this frustrated me greatly. Admittedly, I 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 get back to training.