Thinking Outside the Box

Once you’ve been doing dog training for a while and have worked with a good number of dogs with similar issues, it’s easy to begin to generalize. We hear that a dog is having a particular behavior problem and our minds begin to go through the process of what the dog’s motivations are and how we are going to treat the issue. We automatically craft a solution plan based on our past experiences with similar dogs in similar problems and for the most part this works just fine.

But what happens when our normal solution is ineffective or when the dog’s owners are unable or unwilling to implement the treatment? What do we do then?

This is the point when many trainers get into trouble. When you encounter a problem that you’ve never faced before and that you have no obvious course of action, what do you do? Sure you could just tell your client that you’ve tried everything that you know of and you’re out of ideas – and sometimes it will have to come to that. But before you throw in the towel, you should do some creative thinking and just start trying things that pop into your head. This is where what I call Dog Trainer Intuition comes in.

You have to think outside the box and experiment with some things to see if you can find something that works for this individual dog, with these individual humans, in their very unique world. Remember that dog training is not a one size fits all kind of field.

The more you can think creatively without being afraid to try new things, the more dogs and people you’ll be able to help.

Here’s a simple example that happened to me the other day. A clients said she couldn’t get her new dog to do a “down.” No problem, I thought, I’ve gotten countless reluctant downers to do the command. So I brought the dog over to the nice slippery hardwood floor and began luring him into a down. After about five minutes of unsuccessful attempts I began to get a little frustrated. I was trying all my usual tricks but was getting nowhere.

I stood up, took a deep breath and began to think outside the box. Although working with a dog on a slippery floor always works the best for me because the dog tends to just slip right down, I spotted a small throw rug and decided to try it on the carpet, just for the hell of it.

Guess what? He went down on the first try.

Seems he was just recently adopted from a very rural area of Ohio and there’s a good chance he spent most of his life outside, so he was not totally comfortable with man made floors yet – especially slippery ones. Once on the carpet, he felt much more comfortable and was happy to go down and stay there for as long as we asked him to.

Now that idea was outside the box, but not that far out there. Let me give you another example of a dog I worked with that made me go way outside the old box.

The dog was a beagle who was very reactive at moving cars – basically he went nuts. He lived with a nice family in a townhouse development where cars came out of garages unexpectedly and around corners without any forewarning.  I tried all my usual stuff with zero results. What to do, what to do?

Before telling the owners that I was out of ideas, I took a moment to think about the problem. I asked myself what would I do if the dog was reactive to dogs instead of cars? Easy, pack walks. I’ve helped so many reactive dogs just by walking them with other dogs. Now, this Beagle’s reaction to cars was very similar to many of the dog reactive dogs I’ve worked with in the past. So why not do the same thing that worked with those guys with this reactive car lunger?

Yes you guessed it, I walked him with a car. Doing a pack walk that includes cars seemed like insanity but it’s the only thing I could think of. And it worked.

I had the dog’s owner drive her car slowly next to me and the dog while we walked forward. I kept his eyes forward and body moving. He was reactive at first but then began to settle into the walk – just like with my pack walks with dogs. Soon a began jogging him next to the car with similar results. Wow – pretty cool.

These are just a few of the many examples of how I continually think outside the box to help my clients and their dogs. Don’t get boxed in to one particular method or treatment plan. Learn to analyze each situation and do some creative thinking on how you might be able to work with the environment you have. Then don’t be afraid to just try some stuff out. Not every idea will be a winner, but the more you try stuff, the greater the possibility of finding a solution.

Good luck and let me know what kind of things you come up with to help your clients.

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Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)


  1. Heather Hamilton
    2 years ago

    Wow! How cool is that idea with the ‘car pack walk’?! Awesome! I have worked with one dog who gets mouthy when he is on the leash outside. So, we worked inside with a leash, and everytime he saw the leash and didn’t mouth me, he got some chicken. Then, we went outside – whole new ball park. Mind you, this was a dane, who was mouthy and jumpy. So, we worked on feeding outside with the leash on. This actually helped! I figured ,this is what I do when crate training, why not – leash training?


    • admin
      2 years ago

      Great thinking starting indoors. Creative thinking and problem solving are very useful tools for all dog trainers.

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