As a trainer, I get asked this question numerous times a day. The answer to this question can seem ambiguous and difficult for some people to understand. In today’s article I address this issue for people with the hope that they can take the information, apply it, develop their own training strategy, and a create a stronger relationship bond with their Husky.
The Misconception Of Training
Many people mistakenly assume that training involves one training method that uses special magic words or actions whereby once these special magical incantations are utilized, a dog suddenly obeys commands and transforms from a willful, dominant, pushy, obnoxious, or non-compliant canine to an obedient, willing, demure canine companion. Nothing could be further from the truth. In order for this model of training to be true, one would have to also believe that the “power” of the trainer resides externally to them. It does not. The “power” for the training comes from within you.
The reality is that the ability to convince and motivate a dog to follow your cues comes from an inner source of being rather than an external source of doing. Dogs respond best to being inspired to follow a confident inner Command Presence request and less to an external demand for compliance.
External power grabs (domination, bullying, terrorizing, or using any aggressive force) yields a false sense of power and only temporary compliance from your dog. There will be no generalized understanding that SIT means sit all the time when you try to use a force of power outside of yourself to make your dog be compliant. You may be able to get your dog to do as you ask this time but there will be no compliance next time. Demanding that a dog comply to a cue because you “said so” does not work. It really does not work with a Husky or Malamute because at some level they really don’t care that much if they please you or not. They lack the hard wired gene to feel compelled to “please the owner above all” like some other sporting dog breeds. These dogs can be motivated to comply, it just takes a lot more work from the owner.
So the best way to train this breed of dog is to form a strong relationship bond with the dog and demonstrate strong leadership skills so they are inspired and willing to follow your request out of trust and respect for you. If you do not develop this bond with your dog it won’t matter what method of training you subscribe to or who you hire as trainer because your Snow Dog still won’t follow your cues.
How Do I Develop This Relationship Bond With My Dog?
Always See The Dog
There is no such thing as “one size fits all” training because every dog is an individual living creature with it’s own personality, likes and dislikes, fears, quirks, and drives. You cannot handle a timid, fearful dog like you would a confident, cocky, dominant dog. You cannot use High Value Treats to train a dog that has no food drive. Treats are a tool used in training to focus attention but you cannot buy respect using a cookie. Your husky is too smart to fall for that ploy. You must tailor your training methods and your rewards to fit the individual nature of your dog. ALWAYS – SEE – THE – DOG. And don’t see the dog that you want him to be or the dog that you think that he is, but see the dog that he really is right now in this moment. In this moment of NOW is the only true place that you can begin your training.
Know Your Dog As An Individual
Who is your dog? How well do you really know him? If you don’t know what motivates him or what shuts him down then how effective will your training methods really be?
In order to determine who your dog really is, ask yourself these questions:
- What makes my dog deliriously happy?
- What makes him very sad or emotionally shut down?
- What frightens or concerns him?
- What are his strengths?
- What are his weaknesses?
- What are his quirks?
- What is his currency? What thing is the reward that he most loves and values and would do anything for?
- And most importantly ….How does he see and understand his environment and his relationship with you?
When it comes to training dogs, it really does not matter what you think or how you think that your dog should think. All that matters is what your dog thinks. If you cannot give him a good reason to follow your cues or if he does not understand what is being asked of him, he won’t do it. So your job as the trainer and handler of your dog is to understand how to get into your dog’s head and learn to see and understand things from his perspective. When you do that, you are well on your way to developing a great relationship bond with your dog.
Some Things To Consider When Developing A Training Plan
Are you willing to see your dog for who he really is? Is he a bit of rebel or a tyrant? Is he anxious, fearful, or one hot mess? Is he happy go lucky and just content to do as you as ask? Regardless of who your dog is, this is the dog that you have to work with. The good, the bad, and the ugly; all of it. This is who your dog really is and there is no amount of wishful thinking or denial that will change the reality of this. And it really does not matter how and why your dog is the way that he is. All that matters is that he IS this way and these are the behaviours that you must learn to work with.
Do my expectations match the dog that I am working with?
Are you expecting a very young dog to have the focus or maturity of an adult dog? Are you expecting an adult rescue dog to quickly get over the effects of years of abuse or neglect? Make sure that your expectations match the emotional age and the level of functioning of your dog. There is no replacement for time and patience. Be fair and reasonable with your expectations.
Understand how teaching tools work and their limitations
Using a High Value treat is not the “fix” to any problem. It is a tool that you use to help you while you work to fix a problem. Treats, collars, harnesses, crates, and whistles. These are just tools. Depending on these things to fix your dog’s problem will not fix your dog’s problems. The only real way to fix a problem is through behaviour modification. Tools can help you get there. There are no magic tools that replace effort, repetition, consistency, and the shaping of behaviours.
Be willing to adapt
If you have a timid, fearful, or anxious dog then you cannot use intense methods to train him as this will only cause your dog to shut down or become aggressive. On the other hand, if you have a naturally high energy dominant dog, then you are going to have to be willing to step up to match that energy intensity or the dog will not take you seriously.
If the dog does not recognize any leadership signals coming from you, he will see no reason to follow your instructions. For Huskies, the role of leader and the respect that goes with it must be earned. In the eyes of a Husky, there are no free passes for owners. Please understand that I am not talking about being aggressive with your dog. I am talking about learning to being ASSERTIVE with your dog. These concepts are not interchangeable.
Your results will depend on the quality and quantity of your efforts. How much time and effort are you willing to put into training your dog? Are you training sporadically and inconsistently but expecting great results? What you put into training is what you get out of training. Garbage in; garbage out.
Does your dog understand?
Many people automatically assume that when a dog is non-compliant that he is just being a jerk or that he does not want to comply. In actuality, most times the dog is simply not understanding what you are asking him to do or why you are asking him to do it. Be willing to change how you are communicating with your dog. Remember, training is not about how YOU see the dog’s world, it is about how the DOG understands and interprets his world.
How well do you speak “Doggish”?
Learn how to read your dog’s body language so you can understand when your dog is giving you feedback. How does he interpret a situation? Is he focused on you? Is he confused? Is he challenging your request? Adjust your training to address the issue if your dog is not being compliant. Help your dog to understand what you want him to do. If you need help interpreting what your dog’s body language is telling you, make sure that you check out my article, Understanding Husky Body Language.
If your dog is non-compliant, learn to look at the issue from his perspective. Bottom line, if what you are asking your dog to do makes no sense to him, then he probably will not do it. If a dog is afraid of something then it makes no sense for him to go near it. If your dog is in pain, then doing an activity that gives him more pain will make no sense to him. If your dog thinks he owns something and has the right to own it, then it makes no sense to him to give the object up to you. ALWAYS be willing to look at non-compliance from your dog’s perspective so that you can choose the best way to work with the behaviour.
Is a training method aversive?
Learning shouldn’t hurt. Training is not about domination, coercion, terrorizing, bullying, or physically hurting an animal into submission or compliance. There are ways to train a dog that are gentle and don’t involve punishing or hurting your dog. Learn to recognize the difference between aggressive and assertive.
How I Train A Dog
Notice that I never said how I train dogs. That is because I train each dog respecting the individual that they are. The methods that I choose for training are used to support the dog that I see in front of me and I do not always subscribe to a set modality.
I respect their uniqueness and the challenges the dogs bring with them. I see their potential and I do what I can to nurture this side of them. I help find ways to inspire the dog to believe that he can do what he may not initially think that he can do. I find their strengths and I capitalize on them. I find their vulnerabilities and I help them strengthen those areas. I work on showing them what I want them to do rather than telling them what I don’t want them to do. I reward and mark the behaviours that I want them to keep. I modify the behaviours that need to be changed. I work gently and respectfully.
But most of all I create a trust bond and a partnership / relationship with them so that they will want to work with me and not against me.
The work I do is not just about training dogs. This is also about inspiring dog owners to be the best owner and partner they can be to their dogs. When dog owners know better, they can do better and that means that everyone benefits. Helping ALL Snow Dogs … one owner at a time is not just a slogan that I use to end every article. It is both my fondest desire and my personal philosophy.
The rules to good training are:
- Do no harm. Learning should not hurt.
- Don’t make the problem worse by trying to pound square pegs into round holes. One size does not fit all. Be okay with who they are right at this moment.
- Be willing to take the cues from the dog. Go only as fast or as far as the dog willing to go for that day. Patience truly is a virtue when you are working with an animal.
- Many roads may take you to the same place so concentrate less on the destination and more from what you can learn from the journey. I wholeheartedly believe that we can learn just as much from dogs as they learn from us. Gratefully accept the lessons of developing patience, persistence, thinking outside the box, and learning to see all things through the eyes of compassion that dogs bring to us.
- Take time to smell the flowers. Have gratitude and celebrate the small advances, not just the big milestones. Learning is hard work. Savour the fruits of the labour.
- Stay humble. Dogs remind me everyday that even after 30 years of experience, I still don’t know it all …. and that is okay too because I am willing to be teacher or the student.
- And finally, SEE THE DOG. Please always be willing to see the dog that is in front of you.
What is the best training method to use on your Husky?
The best training method is the one that helps you achieve the greatest possible relationship bond while taking into consideration the dog as an individual. It supports his individual needs, it sets him up for his greatest success, and it uses gentle, non aversive methods to achieve the dog’s co-operation.
Training your dog is less about a methodology and more about a philosophy of unity and becoming one with your dog. After all, isn’t that what developing a great partnership is really about?
As always, we welcome your comments, questions, and stories regarding this topic. When we share our stories and our wisdom we may just be helping someone who is struggling with their Snow Dog.
Helping all Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.