Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Dog Training: Is Your Dog a Cork?


Dog Training is OngoingYears ago, a doggy friend told me: Training for advanced obedience is like trying to hold 20 corks under water at the same time.

She meant that with complicated training tasks when you focus on one area some other area will weaken or revert or, for the purposes here, bob to the surface.

This is true for certain temperament/behavior issues, as well. It would be lovely if when you helped a reactive dog to stop lunging at other dogs that would be the end of it for their lifetime. But it rarely is. Some new moment happens, a dog rushes at your dog or surprises him or stares, and there the lunge is again. Under the influence of stress or surprise, that lunging “cork” bobs up.

Now, part of that is just the dog and part of that is just us. Who keeps working as hard on issues when they are seemingly gone? No one who isn’t a pro and even us pros can let things slip when the squeaky wheel ain’t squeaking as loudly or as often.

After all, this is a story we want to believe. We want to believe that the dog is “cured,” but that rarely happens when the behavior is part of your dog’s “hard wiring.” Put the dog who is doing great with you in a new situation, give them new house rules or shift them to a new human, and don’t be surprised if some old behaviors bob up to the surface. That’s what corks do.

Now, the behaviors can get better – a LOT better. They can be easier to handle and faster to redirect, they may even not be visible for months or years, but they probably aren’t gone.

My Pip is a cork. My job, as someone who loves her, is to remember who she is and to help her be her best self every day. At first, it was a lot of work and now it isn’t much. Mostly anyway. I look at genetically—based problem behaviors not as being “cured” but as being managed. If I let go of the management that helps her world make sense to her, then she stresses, and when she stresses her corks bob up. She starts to spend too much time in the back of her crate surrounded by her magpie-like collection of toys and items I have touched or worn.

My loving management swaddles her securely in external rules she understands so her internal state can stay calm, focused, responsive. It is a gift I give her everyday as partial repayment for the many gifts she gives to me.

What behaviors/traits are cork-like in your dog?

by Sarah Wilson

PS: The exception to this are deficit dogs who are genetically sound but present as shy. As they start to bloom they frequently never look back. 😀

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