Don't wait, but it's never to late! (And a surprise rant!)
Many owners I speak to have one thing in common; they have either been told by trainers to just ignore a behaviour or to redirect their dog onto something else, such as a treat or a toy for example. Sometimes owners believe that whatever the behaviour; it will go away on its own, or they will grow out of it, simply because nobody has told them differently. Not any books; nor at any puppy classes, nor trainers, nor at the rescue where they got the dog etc. etc. Owners are left helpless, thinking this is just what life is like with a dog. Below are a just a few examples of what I've heard over the years:
(Large Labrador, 2,5 years old) "I've been told to just ignore the jumping and turn my back to him. He does get bored after a while and stops, so it sort of works in the moment I guess, but as soon as he gets excited again he's back to jumping all over me. He's been doing this for two years now and he is hurting me!"
(Chihuahua, 2 years old) "She whines and barks a lot when we leave the house. If she is in her crate she will bark and whine and try to break out and if she is loose in the house she chews anything she can get her teeth on, sometimes she will also wee in the house. We have a really hard time managing her now and although we've tried to teach her in small increments to be home alone, leaving treats in her crate and exercise her for hours, it just doesn't work and we're at our wits end."
(German Shepherd, 7 months old) "He's just playing and the biting isn't too bad most of the time, he's just a young playful dog. He did manage to rip a hole in my sleeve the other day though and break the skin. I've tried to give him a toy to bite instead, but sometimes I guess he just finds it more fun to bite my arm."
(Rottweiler, 4 years old) "She started growling around toys and food and we thought that was OK, it is her food after all, so we just stayed away while she ate. She's now started to growl when she's on the sofa and I can't get near my wife. We were told to use a treat to lure her away to her mat but all she does is get the treat and then jump straight back onto the sofa. She doesn't listen when I ask her to get off the sofa and she doesn't stay on her mat!"
(Labrador, 14 months old) "I just want to be able to walk her down the road without being afraid of my own safety, and hers, as she pulls so badly. The worst is when we come across another dog I haven't spotted in time, she lunges so hard and she has pulled me down a few times now. I was told to stop when she pulled and not to carry on until she was calm, and to turn and go another way when I see a dog. The walk takes forever, she still pulls and what do I do when a dog comes around a corner, unexpectedly? I've been having these issues for 6 months now and feel stuck. I don't want to walk her anymore."
(German Shepherd mix, 7 years old) "He started biting me 6 years ago, but it wasn't so bad then, and he's only bitten me once a year or so. Recently however his bites are getting worse and more frequent. I had to go to hospital after the last bite. We tried another trainer, but he bit him too so he got sent home."
In all of these cases, the behaviour problems they are experiencing has often started out quite innocently, just to escalate and become serious problems as the dog's gotten older and/or been able to practise the behaviour for a long time. If these issues had been properly addressed when they started to occur, things would have been a lot simpler for both the dog and for the owner.
So what do I mean by "Properly addressed"?
We live in a society today where dog owners are being told that saying "No" to your dog or teaching them that bad behaviours come with a consequence, is a bad... bad... BAD... thing to do. Dogs are furry little children (known as furbabies) and should be sheltered from any reality life will throw at them. Owners are being told that if you say "No", you'll ruin your relationship and the dog will hate you. All your dog need is love, cuddles and food.
So why is it that I, and many other trainers who think and train similar to me, see the exact opposite? Why is it, that after teaching the dog what is unacceptable behaviour through consequences; by giving them rules, structure and boundaries, but also teaching the owners how to live with their dog; see their dog and interact with their dog, see a much calmer and much more harmonious relationship develop between the owners and their dog?
Why is it that every other animal on this planet, including us humans, has to live by rules and consequences to function and survive, but dogs can suddenly be excluded? Think about it for a minute...
Do you think that a dog that runs into a prickly bush and gets hurt, will hate the bush? Or maybe he got taught a valuable lesson by mother nature?
Do you think that a male young wolf, let's say he is hitting adolescence, who attempts to mate with one of the female wolfs in the pack, will be ignored by the alpha in the pack?
Let's humanise it, just for fun:
If you burn yourself on the hob/stove, will you hate the hob? Or will have you learnt to be more careful and remember the heat proof glove in the future?
Let's pretend you're a man (or woman!) who love boobs. You run up to the nearest female in the supermarket and grab her boobs. Do you think you'll be;
C. Slapped in the face?
(MOST likely scenario ladies and gents, crikey!)
I know it may sound silly and not very professional, but I am trying to put things in perspective here. Life has consequences, across the board of species roaming this earth and that includes dogs. Lets not forget this.
To conclude: My recommendation is always to seek help as soon a problem behaviour starts to occur, but it is never too late. Old dogs can learn new tricks, there is still hope, and I am here to help.
Appreciation goes out to:
Sean O'Shea at https://thegooddog.net/
Jeff Gellman at http://solidk9training.com/
Mark Singer at https://caninetraining.com.au/
There's only so many ways to say things; and I've taken the inspiration for this post from all of them, but these guys has also helped me dare say them in so many ways. Thank you.