Do Dogs Manipulate Their Trainers?

by Michelle Jones

In a word, yes! Some dog owners and trainers are skeptical about a dog’s ability to manipulate a human; doesn’t manipulation take a higher intelligence level than dogs possess? While this is a valid point, every mammal (including man, of course) can differentiate between what is pleasurable and what is painful.

We avoid pain and seek pleasure. Thus, when you dog is having an unpleasant training experience, he will naturally seek to avoid physical and/or basic-level emotional distress. Your dog can’t do geometry, but he certainly knows what is uncomfortable for him and will try to avoid this negative stimulus. Sure, we can call this manipulation, but what it really constitues is your dog’s natural self-preservation.

Think of it this way: have you ever played sick to avoid going to school when you had a history final for which you didn’t study? Uh huh. Would you have failed the test? Probably. Would that be emotionally painful? Definitely, especially when your parents found out. Were you manipulating? Oh, yeah! This is exactly how your dog avoids training that is unpleasant for him.

Ways that dogs manipulate to avoid training:

1. I’m lazy and tired – leave me alone!

2. I’m cranky – leave me alone, or else!

3. I’m hyperactive and can’t pay attention.

4. I’m too dumb to learn.

5. I’m too stressed to learn.

Now, try to determine why your dog is manipulating you to avoid training. Find the cause, and you’ll find the solution. Are you doing anything that causes your dog pain during training such as yelling, scolding, using electric shock collars or choke collars, yanking on his leash, failing to reward and praise a positive response, or even hitting the dog? This isn’t training; it’s abusive terrorism that your dog will avoid if he has any sense at all (which he does). The solution to successful dog training is to make each training session fun, something that he enjoys. You can accomplish this by using positive training methods. Make sure your dog is never physically or emotionally harmed during training. Don’t make the training sessions too long. Do your homework: how well does your dog’s breed do with training? Don’t ask for more than your dog’s breed can deliver; you can’t train a Pomeranian to track game. Never punish your dog for making a mistake; simply start over and run through the correct procedure with him again. Make sure you’re using correct and consistent voice commands and hand signals. And always praise your dog and reward him with a little treat and a good head-scratch! Through positive training, your dog will look forward to training rather than avoiding it. Turn training sessions into a “win-win” situation; punishment-based training makes you both losers.

“Dogs aren’t are whole world, but they make our world whole.”