(Don't) Train the dog - the true way to do lifestyle training.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Do the skills you're training benefit your lifestyle? No? Then I'm here to give you some training advice absolutely free: if you don't care about it, don't train it. WHAT'S THIS??? A DOG TRAINER IS TELLING ME NOT TO TRAIN MY DOG?
[Letterkenny gif of Squirrely Dan sitting in front of the produce stand saying "This conversation's fast becoming a confrontation]
Weird, right? THAT advice certainly won't make me any money. So why do you think a dog trainer would tell you not to train your dog? Well… I'm not really telling you not to train your dog, I'm just telling you that you only have to train the behaviors that YOU care about. And when I say behavior what I mean is, if a dead person can't do it then it's behavior. No, I'm not being facetious. Yes, breathing is behavior. Did you know you can train a dog to take a deep breath on cue? Even things your dog does organically is behavior. Reward the all the fun, cute, and useful crap your dog does that you wanna see more of, and it'll keep happening. Especially reward it in the contexts where you want it to happen again. If it never happens again you either didn't effectively reward it or you punished it (even if you didn't mean to. Intent isn't magic (hyperlink to blog post about how we don’t get to choose what's aversive to our dogs.) I digress. Look, if a dog trainer tells you that you HAVE to train this specific command, or that specific default behavior, they're full of shit. Many of the traditional or common knowledge rules for what dogs *HAVE TO* do in order to be "good dogs" are arbitrary. I'm very fond of saying all dogs are good dogs, because they're all very good at being dogs. The only true responsibility dogs have is to be a dog, and trust me, they've got that covered. It comes standard with the original manufacturing. Everything else is human stuff we've projected on them. And that non-human doggy-ness is why we love and enjoy dogs, right? We love to watch our dogs just be carefree, being unabashedly, unashamedly, uncaringly themselves; truly free in that way that we either don't get to be or struggle to be, and we may live vicariously through them. So unless you Need (with the capital N) a dog to do something you don't have to train that behavior. To get the behavior you want, you only have to train the behavior you want. No more, no less. So if it ain't broke, don't fix it. What a relief!
[Gif of a woman with dark brown hair sweeping her hand across her brow in a "phew" gesture]
So what DO you want your dog to, well… do? Maybe you were told that your dog has to sit before going through doorways and let you go first. Maybe you find that disruptive to the flow of how you walk and it's incredibly annoying or your dog rushes through doors and you find that annoying and you just want to walk through the doorway like normal. Great! Do it! Train that! Or maybe someone told you that your dog has to walk next to you or behind you at all times. But maybe you want to actually see your dog while you're walking them and simultaneously be able to look where you're going, or maybe *want* your dog to pull you around everywhere. Great! Go for it! Just get them a comfortable harness so they don't hurt themselves and let them do it. And maybe train a "stop" so they don't end up trying to pull you into traffic or try to run you into a tree after a squirrel and some directional cues so they don't drag you somewhere you don’t want to go. Maybe you've been told that your dog HAS to be in a crate when you're not home, but maybe you are okay with them making themselves comfortable on your bed where they get to take comfort in smelling your scent while you're gone? That's cool too! You only have to- no, GET to train your dog to suit yourself and your dog. That's it.
[Letterkenny meme of Wayne sitting in front of the produce stand. Caption reads "As long as everyone is having a good time there's no need to be a poopy pants.]
BUT CLAIRE, IF I DON'T FOLLOW THE STRUCTURE THAT TRAINER RIGIDSPINE STICKASS MCGEE ON TIKTOK OR THAT TV SHOW WITH THE CULT-LIKE FOLLOWING SAID ALL DOGS HAVE TO DO, WON'T MY DOG'S BEHAVIOR DETERIORATE INTO CHAOS??? WON'T MY DOG RUN MY HOUSEHOLD AND REIGN SUPREME??? IF MY DOG WALKS IN FRONT OF ME ON WALKS, SURELY THIS IS THE END!!!! No. That's not a real thing.
Yes, dogs thrive on consistency and routine. But it's predictability, not inevitability, that breeds confidence. And comfort is an integral component of happiness. And more importantly, if your dog is walking behind you, how the hell are you going to see where you're going and see if if they're okay back there at the same time? Have fun walking into trees.
Rules and sweeping generalizations about which behaviors HAVE to be trained or specific types of structure that HAVE to be implemented are arbitrary bullshit based in fake bullshit. The only thing you HAVE to do is make your dog happy and comfortable. We humans created dogs and choose to share our lives with them so we owe it to them to keep them safe and happy. So go ahead and only train the stuff you actually want. Make your dog happy as much as you want. And you'll probably make yourself happy in the process, because I'm willing to bet that a happy, satisfied dog who does stuff you like is everything you ever wanted in the first place. Oh- and if you want help with figuring out how to do that, I can help ;)