A few weeks ago, I spoke briefly with a woman who owns Chows. “They’re untrainable. They’re too stubborn.”
I smiled. “I have Akitas.”
“Oh! So you know exactly what I’m talking about!” She said happily.
“No. I don’t. Between them, my dogs have about a hundred performance titles, in nose work, barn hunt, agility, back packing, tricks, rally. And I know a number of other Akita owners who also put multiple performance titles on their dogs. It’s not that a dog, or a breed of dog, is stubborn. It’s that owners don’t communicate well with them, or haven’t figured out how to do so.”
That was actually polite for me. My real belief about people who say that their dog is stubborn: “It’s not that your dog is stubborn or stupid. It’s that we – the 2-leggeds – are too stupid to figure out how to communicate correctly with them.”
I’m sure I’ll get slammed for saying that. It’s too harsh, too bold, too nasty, too unkind. I knew very little about dog training before Kiyo and Toka moved in. Sure, we’d had dogs, but they were usually elderly or ill – dogs deemed ‘unadoptable’ because of age or health.
Through generations of breeding, dogs have been programmed to work with us – whatever the breed. Yes, there are breeds that are more biddable than others. Labs, Border Collies, Goldens come to mind. But even independent spitz breeds were selected for their ability to work. That provides at least a rudimentary platform for trainers to work with a dog of any breed.
These two Akitas are my first performance dogs. Did I mention they are deaf? Yes, two deaf Akitas who have earned numerous titles in various dog sports. I don’t consider myself a particularly good trainer, either.
The ‘secret’ – if there is one – is that I have a wonderful relationship with my dogs. Also I’ve had fabulous trainers (Lucy Newton, Hannah Branigan, Holly Bushard, Denise Fenzi, and Amy Cook to name a few) who have helped me develop it, in addition to aiding me with my own training skills.
This is what has worked for me. Deciding what I want my dog to learn. Parsing or breaking that down into tiny increments and rewarding that behavior so they are frequently getting reinforcement for what they do right, not corrected for what they do wrong.
Plus, if I break down the tasks into small enough increments, the dog succeeds more often than not. ‘Errorless learning.’
Here’s an example. (And yes, in this video I am talking to my deaf dog. You’ll notice I give him a thumbs up sign before he gets his cookie. That’s his ‘yes!’). Trimming Toka’s front nails with clippers or a Dremel is a nightmare. He fights as if he is fighting to the death (his or mine – he does not care who dies). I decided he needed to learn how to trim them himself.
My friend Amy gave us an Akita sized emory board (best dog gift ever!). This is Toka’s second session using the board. In the first session, I rewarded him for moving his foot even a millimeter.
Note that Toka is the most Akita like Akita I have ever had. Opinionated, smart, funny, aloof, determined, self-contained. Many (most?) would call him ‘stubborn.’
This is session #2. You’ll see that I don’t reward every time I need to (i.e., I’m not perfect).
It took him 3 sessions to learn how to trim his own front nails.
Nearly everything that my dogs have learned has been done through similar processes.
Here’s my suggestion to people who say they have ‘stubborn’ dogs. Quit blaming the dog. Start working to improve your relationship with your pup as well as your ability to communicate with him (or her!).
Good luck. And especially have fun! Our beloved friends live such short lives. Every moment is precious.