When Couples Differ on Pet Training Techniques

October 9, 2014

dog training couples andreaBy Langley Cornwell

When two people who live together decide to add a four-legged family member to the mix, the household dynamics can change dramatically. The main thing that complicates the domestic flow is that the new family member speaks a different language from everyone else in the home. The family oftentimes expects this new member to fit in seamlessly, to be obedient, to know when and where to sit, where he’s supposed eat his CANIDAE dog food and other things. They expect him to immediately understand how to behave in his new set of circumstances without being properly trained.

Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything (cough, cough) but I’ve heard that some couples have different philosophies on how to interact with this new family member. They have a different set of ideas when it comes to training techniques and methods of establishing household rules and boundaries.

Any dog will be anxious when he first arrives in his new home, and he desperately wants to please his new family. Of course he won’t know how to communicate with these strangers at first, but if the people start out giving him muddled or conflicting instructions, his anxiety will be exacerbated. Differing approaches will confuse the dog and disrupt the progress or even derail any chance he has of learning how to cohabitate with his new family harmoniously.

Before a couple decides to bring a dog or even a cat into their home, they should carve out enough time to discuss their expectations of the animal and of each other. The conversation needs to encompass household guidelines and boundaries, and then they need to talk about training techniques, e.g., how they plan to teach this new pet the rules of the home.

A few general questions to consider:

• Will you use positive reinforcement exclusively, or combine it with gentle physical correction?
• Will you use clicker training or reward training?

Whatever method you select, remember to:

• Establish clear, consistent commands for simple requests.
• Agree to the time of day and the length of time you’ll work with your pet.
• In all cases, show affection and positive reinforcement for good behavior.

dog training couples jvovesIt’s always a good idea to enroll in obedience training classes with your dog. Couples will need to decide whether one or both will attend the classes with the dog. The best approach is to select one partner to take the lead, but for both partners to attend.

At the very least, teach your dog these commands:

• Sit
• Down
• Stay
• Come
• Off
• Leave it

Consistency is important when teaching your pet practical household rules and behaviors. If one partner is softer spoken or more restrained, it may be necessary for the other to take the lead when initially establishing the ground rules. Likewise, if one partner has a tendency to be more impatient or insistent, the gentler partner may be the one to take the lead.

These decisions are best made by paying attention to your dog’s personality and how he responds to each person. Even though both of you are issuing the same commands, different breeds have different temperaments and respond to people differently.

Additional tips for couples with differing approaches:

• High value, agreed upon rewards will get the best results.
• Simple, mutually-agreed upon one or two word commands make it easier for your dog to understand what you want.
• Both partners should use the same tone of voice when they issue a command, to help the dog understand the tone associated with the request.

Most dogs will adjust to different styles.

• Your pet wants to please you, and he wants to please your partner also.
• If you keep the commands consistent, your pet will catch on and adjust to both methods of communication.
• As in any relationship, each family member has a unique relationship with each other.

It is possible for a pet to have a different relationship with each partner as long as everyone follows the rules of respect. Do not undermine each other by rewarding bad behavior or not rewarding positive outcomes.  And in all cases, if your dog displays aggression or erratic behavior, seek advice from a professional animal behaviorist or dog trainer.

Top photo by Andrea Arden/Flickr
Bottom photo by jvoves/Flickr

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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  1. Brian Frum says:

    That sure would be confusing for the poor doggy. Thanks for the nice thoughts for Sister Zoe, we sure appreciate them.