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Is training compulsory?

Loving our dogs, is not about “educating” them, is mainly about let them be dogs.
If we allow them to live as dogs and have the control of their own lives, as much as possible, they will thrive.
Dogs should enjoy being with their human parents, engage in activities and interact in any possible way.
I suppose is self-explanatory for all social beings, because any type of interaction is what defines them.

There are dogs who love to be trained and work for anything you have to offer and other, less keen to physical efforts or mental challenges.
Nothing and nobody dictates a compulsory training, it is not a fashionable thing to do nor an obligation.
If we want to do it, we should choose a personalised education – according to our dog’s individuality and only if we are committed to dedicate our time in doing it.
We should set our expectations based on the capabilities of our dog.
Because breed, age and intelligence may all affect a dog’s trainability.
Competitive agility and obedience trainers choose Border collies for a reason.
This breed has strong working genes, is highly intelligent and naturally trainable.
A Shih Tzu on the other hand, though bright and intelligent, was bred as a companion dog and lacks the drive to learn like the collie.
Do your home work before you choose your future dog, make sure he fits to your life-style, if you want him to be happy.

Educating consists on knowing the learning theory, understanding the canine behaviour and be consistent.

If we don’t have these 3 qualities, we should neither get involved in training, nor punish our dog for his reluctance to follow up.
The problem will never be the dog, is always we and our training methods!
If during education, things go wrong, we shall always consider to change our ways – before we change the dog’s.


Creating soldier-dogs, or obedient helpers to serve just for fun, can be an ego-boost or handy for us, but doesn't actually benefit the dog.

However, as long as this lifestyle is pressure-free, it can be acceptable.
Training is helpful in order to communicate with your pet and respond to his needs, thus it has to be both ways, you learn his language while you teach him yours.
Instructing our dogs new things helps them mentally, builts self-confidence and provides with solutions, when dealing with behavioural problems.

Structural training, like house etiquette and other fundamental things, you should teach if you decide is necessary and not because everybody else do with his dog.
Your life with your dog doesn’t have to be structured or restricted by other people’s rules.
If your dog likes to be inert on your feet just to share your presence, this is what you shall offer him and if he likes running along with you, tracking, sniffing around, do agility, solve puzzles, play tug of war, fetch etc. you prove your love by interacting with him.
If you dont mind having a dog who jumps on the sofa, in your bed, eat with you, sleeps under the table, licks your face, chew your sleepers etc. just let him be who he is.
The only thing you should take under consideration is your boundaries – if there are any – and when you put limits to a behaviour, you should be consistent.

You can not allow him to bark, chew, jump, sleep in your bed etc. just for one day and then change your mind tomorrow and reprimand these behaviours.

This would be unfair and counter-productive in building mutual trust and will eventually impact his self-confidence.

Animal Cognition

Canine cognition is important and understanding dog language is paramount, for all people living with a dog.
By observing your dog and use your knowledge, you will be able to comprehend the reason of a behaviour.
We should all find some time to educate ourselves, before we educate an animal.
To learn about the most recent findings on canine cognition, about the physiology and the body language of canine stress, about how training with physical force or intimidation evoke aggression, moreover understand and implement the learning theory.
Because we need to become aware of the responsibility that comes with it, by living with these marvellous creatures.
Sally Gutteridge argues that: “True awareness leads to naturally kind dog training.”
According to her there are just 3 rules to keep in mind, when training dogs: Be Kind, Be Aware and Be Happy!

“Celebrate your dog, be kind to him and increase your awareness and you simply can’t go wrong!”

Find out more here:

Here are the 4 most important things we should know about our dogs.
Even if we are not dealing with over-reactive or “difficult” dogs, these 4 simple rules are crucial for all dog’s well-being.

  • The Comfort Zone

    Also known as safety space, is the zone within your dog feels safe. Its range varies, depending on the dog's mental state.

  • The Stressors

    Stressors or triggers, are all the things the dog considers as threats. Consequently adrenaline will be secreted and he will be in surviaval-mode.

  • The Flight Distance

    Is considered the distance between a stressor and the dog, before he tries to avoid or run away. Over-reactive, stressful and fearful dogs, tend to have a long flight distance.

  • The Critical Distance

    Is considered the point when his flight distance is over-stepped, hence he will go over his threshold and may attack.

Dogs Learning All the Time

Dogs learn before and directly after birth.
There is no such thing as a special training time, they observe us and their surroundings and they gather alot of information.
They actually learn all the time, desirable or undesirable behaviours and it is up to us to decide which should we allow and the ones to eliminate.
In your everyday routine you do or not, things that may effect what you taught your dog the day before.
An example, the dog has been taught to sit, but supposedly on one occasion he remains standing and you just ignore it.
Well, the dog re-learned that even if he doesn’t do as he is being told, there are no consequences, nor a motivation for doing as he is being told…
Next time you ask him to sit, he will hesitate, because he is not motivated enough and of course less certain about how to gain your attention.
Subtle details of our ways, human little mistakes, he is open to everything, he observes for pleasant consequences, in order to repeat or not, a behaviour.
Based on our responses, he is learning.
In other words, what you ignore will eventually extinct, what you reinforce will become a behaviour or habit.
Consequently, he learns from you even if you don’t speak at all, he will just read your body language, as he would have done with his conspecifics and he will adapt.

The Learning Pace

Humans lack of patience, but they are full of demands.
We expect them to behave and offer us all kind of behaviours as soon as possible, with a minimum of effort on our behalf, which is unrealistic and unfair.
Either we accept the responsibility that comes with being an animal-parent, or we should stop asking too much from them – too soon.
Each dog, regardless of breed, sex or age, has his own learning pace.

Some are fast learners and some are slow, to the point of disappointment, but they all eventually learn.

My female Samoyed is a “frustrated” learner, she is so excited during our sessions, she will offer plenty – amongst the 70 cues she already knows – before the right one.
She learns as fast as she gets frustrated, thus i ought to control her impulses every-time i introduce a new cue.
My little Spitz on the other hand, is a “methodical” learner, he takes his time, he observes before he initiates anything, or he will imitate our female, once he feels ready.
As he is already introvert and shy, with not much of self-confidence, making mistakes while introducing new cues, can be demoralising.
Consequently his learning pace is slower, but with a high rate of successful responses and this is the reason why we shall be patient and provide them with the necessary time.
All creatures, humans included, learn by “trial and error”.

Mistakes are part of the learning process and without them there is no progress.

Hence, our dogs will inevitably make mistakes, for which we should never punish them or reprimand.
On the contrary, we will encourage them to move on.
By pointing at what we want them to do, we continue with the same enthusiasm.
Keep in mind to always finish your learning session on a high note, thus your dog can make a pleasant association.
There is no such rule as “daily training”, he is not going through a competency exam and rest assured he will not forget what you have taught him two days ago.
If for any reason, you are not in the mood, you are tired, stressed or not motivated enough, do not engage into training.
Your bad mood, lack of enthusiasm or energy, will impact the dog’s motivation as well and the session’s outcome will be likely negative.
Instructing an animal, may be time consuming, but also fun for both participants, and when is done properly, with care and respect, is for a life time.

Thre Are No Bad Dogs

When living or working with dogs, it is vital to remember that they are neither wolves nor human, or a mix of the two. The domestic dog is a species in its own right!
Dogs can not interpret or distinguish human ethical notions, like for instance, the good from the bad.

They only do what they consider rewarding.

Therefore to them there is no such thing as “bad” behaviour, what they do is a natural – doggy thing to do.
A dog is always just a dog, whilst he pulls on the leash, he defecates/urinates in the house, whines, barks, chews, bites, digs, jumps on the furniture or on people etc.
This is where the “structural training” becomes important to teach, in order to establish the limits and accomplish a symbiotic coexistence.

The dogs make choices based on the consequences – if the consequences are beneficial, they will reproduce this specific choice.
If a behaviour is ignored or not rewarded, it will eventually distinct.
Our innate tendency to anthropomorphise the dogs’ behaviour, regardless of their wild nature, gets in the middle of a good, productive education.
By projecting our emotions and intentions to them, as a mean of understanding and explaining canine behaviour, is absolutely erroneous.
They do not react of spite, they do not avenge, being jealous, feel guilty for a so called “bad” behaviour, being purposefully disobedient etc.
Because of this misconception we try to educate them as we would have done with human beings.


By anthropomorphising we are giving the dog credit of being emotionally capable and self-conscious, for his actions!

Actually it is more like an excuse for us, in order to justify our anger, our disappointment, or the need of punishing for what goes wrong.
Once again, our approach is human-centered and not animal-focused.
The anthropomorphism is very damaging and counter-productive, when it comes to understand and deal with behavioral problems.

Being upset, scold the dog, reprimand, punish him, isolate him, deprive him from his favorite things or places, when you judge he “misbehaved”, is a very wrong approach and it won’t teach him to do better next time.
Your anger only teaches him to avoid you and not the act that caused your disapproval.
He will repeat the same “mistake” when you will not be there to get upset with him.. and a vicious circle just started.

Instruct your dog what he must do, make boundaries, be clear and consistent with your expectations and rules, this is what “training” or education, is all about.
And i insist on educating ourselves – before our dogs, because this is the cornerstone of a successful and happy coexistence.
Think like they do, act less human-centered, acknowledge their nature and meet their needs, is of paramount importance.
By putting all this in practice, we will promote their mental health and our human-dog relationship.

“Understanding dog as a dog and providing necessary guidance, will allow the relationship between dog and owner to develop to the fullest”.
Dr Ian Dunbar

With or without training, be gentle, empathetic, patient and above all, love them for who they are!


About Post Author

Reactif canin

Passionate advocate of Positive Reinforcement, Operant Conditioning and force-free training methods. Studied at Karen Pryor Academy, Ethology Institute Cambridge, Canine Principles Academy and Centre Of Excellence. Being responsible for an animal, consists on creating scenarios that build his self-confidence, helps him to discover his strengths and competences, to trust us and not fear of us. After all, a dog is a dog, a unique individual, who needs and must act like one and by expressing his natural behaviours! We must consider the relationship with our dog as parental, rather than this of the master and subordinate. Dogs, similarly to children, see us as their "role model" for guiding them to their new life, with us. Our role is not to dominate them, but to establish a symbiotic relationship with them. Let us be worthy of this role!

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