Intentional or not, dogs learn

One of the best tips I ever read regarding training dogs was something along the lines of “even when you’re not intentionally teaching them, dogs learn.” In other words, if you aren’t correcting a behavior in your dog that you don’t want, you are essentially condoning that behavior.


I have to admit that I haven’t been consistent in the training of our dogs. And as a result, which should come to no surprise to anyone, they have a few…err…issues.

 Intentional or not, dogs learnBelieve it or not, Maddie graduated from not one, but two, training classes. Here she is pictured, with my husband, as she passed level two training a few years ago. I’m still convinced it was sort of a pity pass. Maybe like “no Schnoodle left behind” or something?

At any rate, Maddie is actually a very smart dog. But Maddie has focus issues. When she can focus, she’s a rockstar, but focus is not her strong suit. As a result, we stopped working with her as much because it seemed frustrating for everyone involved. She also has barking issues, and everything we were trying wasn’t really helping. She is an awesome and loving dog, and she’s mostly fine in the house, but not really a dog we could take places. And we wanted to change that.

So, a few weeks ago, we bit the bullet and signed up for an evaluation with a veterinary behaviorist. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve admittedly watched a few episodes of what I assumed were animal behaviorists on tv, and frankly, it’s usually a problem with the people. I became prepared for the behaviorist to tell me it was entirely my husbands our fault.

As it turns out, we didn’t really understand where Maddie was coming from. She had needs that weren’t being met. And our approach wasn’t necessarily what was right for her, even if it had worked with other dogs. Speaking to a veterinary behavioral professional really gave me some insight into what it is going to take for Maddie to effectively learn what she should learn.

Not very far into our reinvigorated focus on training, Maddie loves to learn and be guided. She has been doing well. She is not very food motivated, but is eager to please, and loves to be praised for doing the right thing. This time, what Maddie learns will be intentional.

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  • Bethany

    Thanks for this post! We’re going to get back into training around here to and no matter what I have tried nothing seems to convince Huxley to pay attention to me… but I know there are always more things to try! I have never had a behavior consultation with a vet. Maybe you could tell me who you saw!

    • Stefanie

      So nice meeting you yesterday, Bethany!

  • Emma

    We are always learning even when you don’t know you are teaching us. We love to learn, just like mini humans. We never get too old to learn either.

    • Stefanie

      Absolutely, Emma! Unfortunately I wasn’t setting a good example by letting my dogs get away with so much. 🙂