We often find our clients not understanding why their dog struggles with certain behaviours. Most of the time the human has set a certain expectation and the dog fails miserably. Leading up to this failure no criteria was set, not enough training time was put in, and expectations were not met. So how do we dissect this and get passed it?

Take for example a dog who is reactive to other dogs while on leash. Most dog owners have no idea what the criteria should be and have high expectations of their dog. What does that mean? All they know is that they want their dog to walk politely past other dogs right? However, if we raise our criteria and lower the expectations we can make major headway in our training. So when we are working with reactive dogs we raise our criteria; you must be able to stay calm, listen to my commands, accept food, and keep moving while we train. That will most likely mean you need to move further away from the trigger.

We are in turn lowering our expectations in that I do not expect my dog to be able to do any of those things at a certain distance from the trigger, rather I figure out where I can be successful at raising my criteria. So if at 20ft your dog loses his mind when he sees another dog, cannot accept food, and does not respond to any commands then you need to lower your expectations. It is unreasonable at this time to expect him to be successful at 20ft. If at 40ft he can stay mostly calm, accept food, listen to commands and keep moving then you have raised the criteria but lowered your expectations.

As you progress in your training you will be able to continue to raise the criteria. For example the criteria is to be able to do the above listed things at a closer distance, but keeping your expectations reasonable based on the amount of training you have been doing.

Another very basic example for this would be lets say you are working on your dogs sit command. You want your dog to be able to listen to your command the first time and hold a sit in any environment. However, when out in public around people he cannot do it just yet. So, how do we raise the criteria but lower our expectations? Raise the criteria; you must sit the first time when I ask, you must hold the command until I release you, and I will enforce this no matter what.

My expectation that my dog can do this needs to be lowered as I know he struggles. So I have to think how can I set this up so my dog is successful? Train at a further distance, make sure my leash is on so I can enforce the commands, and then make it happen (no matter what). I am not expecting my dog to be perfect, but I am raising the criteria and helping him be successful. As he gets good at this we move closer while still maintaining our criteria.

So if you are struggling with your dog’s behaviour, the best thing to do is to take a step back, think about what it is you need your dog to be able to do (or not do), lower your expectations, and raise the criteria for training.