This is something that we hear and get asked about a lot as dog trainers. And it’s understandable why we do, but sometimes it’s just not a simple question to answer.
‘Are results guaranteed?’
‘How long will it take to fix it?’
‘How much will it cost?’
When dogs develop severe behaviour problems it’s most commonly caused by the dogs natural genetics, life experiences, and the skill and competency of the owner. And it is rarely the case that the dogs behaviour is stemming from one exact thing that can be pinpointed.
By the time dog trainers get to actually see the behaviour in person, the problem has been repeating itself for months or maybe even years. Throughout this time the owners have been (unknowingly) adding to the problem by avoiding it, creating harmful aversions, damaging the relationship, increasing stress, rewarding incorrectly, poor handling, and confusing the dog.
On the day of the session the trainer has had no experience with the dog, doesn’t know their personality, and has no built up relationship with them. They have a very limited time to build trust, relationship, reward history, and boundaries. They have to identify the likely cause of the dogs emotional problem (which may be complex), implement some training to paint an alternative picture in the dogs head about how we expect them to behave, all the while teaching the owner how to control and handle, mark and reward, and read and understand body language.
The reality of behavioural modification in dogs is that it’s largely down to the commitment and competency of the owners. As trainers have a small window of opportunity to work with the dog, it’s their job to identify the emotional cause and teach the owners how to work on it moving forwards. It is the owners who spend each and every day with the dog and that is where the truly meaningful change will be made over time.
There is no trainer that can provide an instant fix to a complex behavioural problem within a session. It simply doesn’t work like that. The goal is to show how the method works within a session, so the owner can take that away and implement it in their day-to-day life with the dog to make meaningful change over time. Just because the trainer can ‘fix’ the problem during the session, it doesn’t mean the dog will go home and be fixed. The owner must then continue the work.
Think of it like walking into your GP’s office with anxiety and depression and expecting to walk out cured. When in reality you begin the process of speaking to somebody, admitting you have a problem, and following the advice and guidance of a professional who specialises in that particular area.
The owners who turn up for training ready to learn, open minded, trust in the process, and ready to follow the plan will get the results they’re so desperate to make. The owners who want everything yesterday, push back to everything they’re advised, complain about things that may inconvenience them, and give up before they’ve even started, won’t.
So in summary; are all problem behaviours in dogs fixable? With owners who’re passionate about learning and committed to rehabilitating their dogs, the improvements are limitless. But, if you’re looking for a magic button fix or aren’t willing to follow the advice of trainers who’ve dedicated their lives to fixing dogs, the night is dark and full of terrors.