Why Do Dogs Need Training?

Love is not Enough

By Marilyn Marks

If you’re a dog lover and haven’t read Marley & Me by John Grogan, do so. It’s a light read with a deep current; it will make you laugh and weep (ok, bawl). Marley is 90 lb. Lab who, over 12 or so years, proves himself incorrigible, but endearing. The result is a lesson in love for all of us.

It won’t spoil the read to tell you that Marley behaves so poorly that the owners resort to physical means (with little result) and almost give him away several times. They are typically people who love their dogs and “try everything” to fix the issues. Unfortunately, they really did not do enough, and Marley, who was more than a difficult dog, suffered for it.

Marley suffered from the “I want it my way and I know how to get it” blues. (Note: this is not a real diagnostic category). Due to his personality and having the size and strength to convince people to see it his way, he had no limits – self-imposed or otherwise. He was never aggressive to get his way, but he was very pushy.

But was he happy? I think not entirely. Dogs like Marley push to see where the boundaries are because they can’t find them, like kids testing a substitute teacher or a new step-parent. Since they are used to getting their own way, when they don’t it sends them into a rage. They are eternal and teenagerhood is filled with angst teenagers (get out of my face but wait, I need you for such and such). Also, Marley’s destructive thunder phobia was never really addressed, and while the owners suffered property damage, we can assume it reflected an internal state that Marley found insufferable.

For me, a dog trainer, the book’s lesson was that I understood how a crazy lab (read: normal lab) could be accepted and loved despite being less than perfect. A friend of mine, who has an active (read: annoying) lab puppy, learned a different lesson, however. He learned that if Marley turned out just fine in the end, then his dog didn’t really need any training (effort) after all.

I was aghast! So I’m writing this to tell you that dogs need training and limits and structure and expectations for self-control as much as our kids do! Don’t wait until there is an issue! Don’t let your dog overrule your expectations (assuming you expect him to be a dog and not a robot)! Don’t make your dog live with unresolved fear issues! Dogs without limits and a feeling of safety are suffering.

I happen to believe strongly in a positive, behavioral approach to dog training, but there are effective and ineffective trainers using any given method. Go find yourself a professional who you believe in and who motivates you and whom your dog loves to work for! If your dogs’ issues persist, please visit a behaviorist at Cornell or Tufts vet schools.

Love is not enough for the emotional well-being of our best friend!

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