The refrain is common – one person is trying to train the dog and another person in the family is being unhelpful. “Do you have dog training tips for this situation?” I am asked. Yes. Yes, I do.
First, welcome to the club. This is so common as to be normal. So please don’t feel terrible about your dog or your marriage or your friend or yourself, you just live with an anti-trainer of one sort or another. Full agreement on how to train the dog and even IF to train the dog is rare. I’ve seen a few couples in complete unified agreement in 25+years of professional dog training but I can count them on my fingers.
The good news? It is usually workable in some way or another, unless you have last sort of anti-trainer listed here and then you’re in much deeper relational waters than a dog training blog post can help with. Here are the three most common types of anti-trainer I encounter:
This is the most benign and charming form. This person adores dogs. They can playfully encourage the very behaviors your are trying to stop and feel like you’re ruining their play if you mention it. Training is viewed as a negative for the dog and, if you come down as the heavy, that will reinforce that perception. Typical behaviors: Playing too rough, encouraging barking or jumping, laughing when the dog is “naughty”.
Suggestions: See if you can engage this person in teaching tricks or other fun games; explain why you don’t want a certain behavior (say jumping up as a game) and ask for their help with a compromise: I know you love to play like this, can we find a compromise? Could you have the dog sit and wait then the game starts? I just don’t want him tackling the elderly neighbor/our toddler/me; use lots of fun and play in your training so they see that dog training and fun are not mutually exclusive.
You train differently. Typically one person is taking a positively-focused approach and the other is more correction-focused and they are making each other a little crazy. “Just tell him ‘No!’ ” one side states. “Don’t be so mean!” the other counters. In this case, both parties can feel like they have an anti-trainer in the house.
Suggestions: Remember that you’re both on the same team, you both want the dog trained you just have different ways of going about it. Focus on praising each other for doing things you like and remain silent on the rest. I know that can be hard but if criticizing each other was going to work you would not be reading this, I am betting. If positive-focused training is the right way for dogs, it is the right way for people, too. Appreciating someone else’s efforts is a great way to lower defensiveness and resistance, putting someone more in the mood to return the favor. Find a respected trainer and let them sort it out. As a friend who worked at IBM counseled me years ago: Have something unpleasant to say to a peer? Refer to a respected, neutral third party.
This is rare. In my observation of the few couples doing this rather nasty dance, they are working out serious relationship issues through the dog. Tell-tale signs of this is someone working hard on something like, say, jumping and then the other person coming home, looking directly at that person while inviting the dog to jump up. The dog may then be praised with words like “Who loves you?” or “I am not a meanie.” or “Don’t listen to him/her – they are no fun.” or whatever hurts the other person most as the dog is being petted and cooed over.
Suggestions: Oh, this hurts because it is meant to hurt. You know this version because you want to cry. Others may frustrate you to no end but this type brings tears to your eyes. This is a situation better dealt with by a good counselor and if your partner won’t go with you, go yourself. You need some ideas on what is going on and how to shift it. In the mean time, I’ve known people who trained their dog with different commands or cues than the partner uses/know. Dogs can – and in the world of professional dog training routinely do – learn to respond to different people, differently. The trick is not to let the inevitable anger at what your partner is doing make you angry at the dog. Good luck with that one.
These are just a few of the things that can help, though nothing works in all situations. Do you live with an anti-trainer? What kind? What dog training tips do you have for handling this situation?