“Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself!” This phrase came from an early 1960s television commercial and proved so popular it became a national punch line. Two songs were recorded with the title, it appeared in comics, and was featured in a Carol Burnett skit. It’s also a truism for dog training – give your dog responsibility and let him do it himself.
Have you ever gone to a new location as a passenger in a car, and then tried to drive there on another day only to get confused and lost along the way? Would you expect a student to do well on exam day if someone else had done his homework? It comes down to this: we learn best by doing. And so do our dogs.
So when a dog owner pushes on his dog’s rear end and says “sit,” what does the dog learn? He learns that “sit” means my human will push on my butt. Probably not what his human actually wanted him to learn. When the dog owner says “leave it” and pulls the dog away from that interesting thing – or whisks that fascinating thing out of reach, the dog probably doesn’t walk away with the understanding that on the next encounter he should ignore that item. In both cases, the owner is doing all the work and will have to continue doing all the work because the dog isn’t efficiently learning the intended behavior.
Effective dog training depends on getting the dog to perform and repeat the desired behavior. When the dog offers the behavior, we tell him that’s exactly what we want. Then we reward that success with something the dog really wants. You may provide a little help to communicate to the dog exactly what you’re looking for, but resist the urge to do it for him. It may make you feel better in that moment, but it won’t increase your success for the long haul. What will increase your success is clearly communicating to your dog when he’s doing what you want and offering appropriate reinforcement for his accomplishment, which becomes motivation to do it again. This gives your dog both the responsibility for his own behavior and the opportunity to earn rewards. Continue training until you see that “light bulb moment” that tells you he can do it himself!