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My Parents Would Have Been Great Dog Trainers . . . If they had liked dogs.

Posted on 11/26/08 5 Comments

Neither one of my parents were big dog lovers. They were both kind people, just not dog lovers. I always found that weird. My brothers and sisters are pretty much split down the middle. Four of them have a tolerance but not a love, three of them have a family pet that they love, and two of us, some would consider to be: not-right-in-the-head with the unbalanced way we love our dogs.  By now I am sure you can see which category I fall into:).

I know my parents would have been great dog trainers because a lot of what I have learned about shaping behaviour I experienced first hand from them. There was always a consequence to your actions and I don’t mean something black or evil.  Just a consequence.  Now, keeping in mind I was their seventh go around on the child raising circuit, they had already been given several opportunities to cultivate their craft.  So if mom called us all down for supper when we were upstairs watching TV, we came down.  There was no foot stomping or bartering, there was just the request to come, and us going. If you chose to not come-when-called, there was a consequence.  It rarely happened because she had trained a good recall in her brood. However I did get to experience first hand on two occasions what happened if you got distracted on your recall and went to sniff somewhere else, so-to-speak.  My mom would go downstairs to the fuse panel, unscrew the fuse for the TV, and it wouldn’t be put back in until all the kids went to bed that night. Thus a consequence for your actions.

I  never actually heard my father raise his voice, not once in my entire life.  I remember one day coming in the house and my younger sister meeting me at the back door to whisper, “dad found out that you are smoking and he is going to talk to you about it.”  Bring it on, I thought, I was ready for the battle.  Crap, I was 21 years old, hadn’t lived at home since I left for university when I was 18, I was ready for the fight.  Sure enough, my dad asked to speak with me and to this day I remember every word my father spoke as he sat on the couch and said. “Susan your mom and I found out you are smoking, which quiet honestly, shocked us both, as you have always been such an athlete. Well, I just wanted to let you know, I am disappointed.” And with that, he got up and left the room. Wow, every behaviour has a consequence.  I waited until he had gone and then I cried like a baby.  Partly by the frustration of being all ready for my fight, but was quickly diffused by a much better prepared adversary, and partly by the knowledge I had disappointed my dad. Of course I quit smoking within the month and I haven’t smoked since.

Neither one of my parents ever laid a hand on me. I never had a “spanking”, well not during my childhood, but that is another story altogether.  As a teenager, I never had a  ‘curfew’ to be home by at night, although both my sisters (one older, one younger) each had curfews.  I always found that a bit strange and it was one of the many questions I asked my mom when she was sick with cancer. She told me she allowed my actions to dictate her parenting.  She went on to say because I was so involved with sports and spent all my extra time at a team practice or game somewhere that her and my dad never had to worry where I was or what I was doing.  Since my sisters were not into sports they spent more time “just hanging with friends” in a less structured way.  They were both given curfews.  My mom told me if I had ever stopped showing up at a predictable time, she would have altered those freedoms for me.

That pretty much sums up what my book Ruff Love is all about.  Not extending privileges to a dog until he has showed you, through the action of making good choices for himself, that he deserves those extra freedoms. Once extra liberties are extended, for example:  allowing a puppy to be off leash, it is the puppy’s good choices that allows him to stay off leash. Good choice = good consequence.  Any  failure (not coming when called the first time) will result in a less desired consequence: freedom stops and will not be granted back until more of a history of reinforcement for the correct choice has been built up.  You see, just the action of stopping the freedom will rarely create the desired response.  You need to have a history of reinforcement before and after, for the correct choice before it will be one that the puppy consistently chooses to make.  Had my father been a child molesting, wife beating, drunk, him telling me he was “disappointed in me” would not likely have had the same impact on me.  The fact that there was history of reinforcement through love and trust means the consequence I received was effective.

I am very grateful for my parents. They were awesome people and I know you all would have loved them if you had ever gotten a chance to have met them.


  1. Debra says:
    Friday, July 22, 2011 at 8:02pm

    Susan, I know this post is almost 3 years old, but just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading this blog about your Pappy and Momma. I too have the bestest parents in the world and thank my God for them every day of my life; the Godly foundation they gave me, the unconditional love and just always being there for me. Now that my momma has Alzheimers….my heart just aches to hear her talk to me one more time…

    Here’s to our wonderful parents….


  2. Wishy says:
    Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 8:14am

    As a mom and a dog trainer, I find this post especially helpful. Thanks so much!


  3. Trudie says:
    Friday, November 28, 2008 at 3:55am

    While I haven’t caught my doggies smoking secretly in my farmyard yet, now that you mention it, I have on occasion seen a distinctly guilty look which says, “I just found something rotten on the compost heap and ate it”.
    Well, your blog “thought of the day” has just reminded me of Temple Grandin’s extraordinary book “Animals in Translation”, in which she shares her personal insights about how animals think.
    My pyrennean shepherd would much rather be off leash than on. He’s 2 1/2 and we are just starting in competitions. Worried that when I heard the words “next contestant please”,only half of the team would be at the starting gate, I was afraid to let him off leash, like, ever. The competition venue is so different than ordinary club days (to me it’s like being at a shopping mall 2 days before Christmas!). Obviously, without basic confidence to work in the midst of distractions, we are going nowhere. I decided to let him off, call him to me often and reward, and lo and behold.
    And now I’m bearing in mind, thanks for your explanation, the importance of a dog making good choices to allow him to stay off leash.


  4. Dori says:
    Thursday, November 27, 2008 at 6:45pm

    I regularly tell people that training dogs is a lot like “training/raising” children. You have to be fair and firm otherwise they will walk all over you.


  5. Chantal says:
    Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 5:12pm

    Very nice tribute to your parents, thanks for sharing.


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