Keep training expectations reasonable

Itís now generally accepted that domestic dogs are descendants of wolves that have undergone genetic modification, both intentional and unintentional, over the last 15,000 years.

While much of the story of the origin and early development of dogs remains a mystery, one thing is certain: Dogs have been the most adaptable and cooperative animal species to form a close relationship with humans.

But how much adaptability and what level of cooperation is reasonable to expect from a dog?

Puppies and adult dogs come to us hardwired with instincts that donít match our ideas of polite dog behavior. For instance, without training, dogs naturally relieve themselves whenever the urge strikes them. Much to their amazement, they learn that there are rules and boundaries attached to this simple bodily function and that humans become quite upset when those rules are broken.

Dogs also use their mouths in play and jump all over each other in greeting. Again, we humans set boundaries that seem unreasonable to a dog. Teeth must be reserved for other dogs, and jumping on people must be limited in order to fit within their new pack.

Over and above house training and a polite greeting protocol, consistent dog training helps set reasonable boundaries that make dog ownership more rewarding. Luckily, dogs are hierarchical animals that are used to fitting within a chain of command and usually are more than willing to learn the nuances of living in polite human society.

While there are many perfectly reasonable expectations that we should have for our dogs, there are some that are unnecessarily restrictive or downright unfair.

Dog walks should be rewarding for both dog and human. We all know that struggling with a dog that acts like a frustrated Iditarod sled dog is annoying, but have you ever stopped to think about what it must be like to be at the other end of the leash? Dog walks are not just a time for dogs to relieve themselves but also an opportunity for exploration and mental stimulation.

Your daily walks should have reasonable rules, such as donít pull on leash and donít get in my way when we are walking, of course. But insisting that your dog walk behind you or in a constant heel position is an unnecessary demand unless you spend a lot of time walking your dog on big city streets.

Some dog owners demand that their dogs walk behind them because they are convinced that dogs who want to pull on leash are being dominant or are trying to take over the human-dog relationship. This concept has no support in science and would presume that dogs want nothing more than an opportunity to take over the world. Pulling on leash is not about dominance; itís about the excitement of getting to the park, meeting a new dog or getting to the next great thing to smell.

Rolling a dog on her back (also known as ďalpha rollingĒ) to prove to her who is boss is as unnecessary as slapping a child who has gotten her Sunday dress dirty. Sure, it gets the point across but at what cost? Leading a dog is very similar to parenting a child. Lessons can and should be taught with clear, consistent teaching methods and application of appropriate consequences, not by brute force.

When we begin to look at our dogs more as partners in training and less as objects that need to be dominated, training begins to make more sense, and reasonable versus unreasonable expectations become obvious.

Julie Winkelman is a certified pet dog trainer and a certified dog trainer. Reach her at