Training the Untrainables

We’ve all heard of these dogs. Many breeds and individuals within breeds land with the “Untrainable” label. I have lost count of the number of times I have been told by a client that their dog was labelled “Untrainable” by another dog trainer, dog owner, groomer or self-proclaimed dog expert. Sometimes a breed is even labelled “Untrainable” by the breeder themselves!! I’ve also stopped trying to keep up with the number of dog breeds added to this ever growing list. From Beagles to Terriers, Greyhounds to Huskies, it seems that when a training technique proves unsuccessful with a particular dog, that the dog or the breed is the one labelled “Untrainable”.

It may be more appropriate in these circumstances to label the human training the dog inflexible. “Inflexible” trainers seem to see more “Untrainable” dogs.

The “Untrainables” are on the receiving end of many other nicknames- Stubborn, Lazy, Stupid, Wilful, Dominant just to name a few. Of course it is possible for a dog to be generally lazy. It’s even possible for a dog to be generally stubborn.

But these traits do not need to see an end to the training of that individual. Whilst we know that certain EMOTIONAL states (like fear or extreme arousal) can completely inhibit learning in any dog, having a different personality trait does no such thing. Dogs can have an incredible variety of personality traits, still be trained and learn to love it.

So what are the real problems of “The Untrainables”?

Dogs labelled as “Untrainable” often have one of or many of the following issues-
– They lack motivation, quite simply they are underworked and overpaid!! You’d be amazed at how dogs change when you start delivering food in training, rather than for free.

– They don’t have a great deal of physical stamina meaning training sessions have to be short and sweet

– They have not “learnt to learn” so they simply don’t understand that they can earn reward by offering different behaviours. This is often compounded when people take the dog into a difficult environment (usually with distractions of other dogs and people) to learn a skill when the dog does not understand the concept of learning

– They don’t respond to one particular training technique (whatever that training technique might be) and need flexibility in their training or a combination of techniques to get a positive result.

– They are genuinely overwhelmed by the situation they are being trained in- this can be related to the complexity of the skill or difficulties in the environment.

– The training being done is simply not fun and the dog is quickly bored, disinterested and disengaged

The fantastic thing about the above list is that humans are either COMPLETELY responsible for the problem OR at the very least, have the ability to address it. Addressing training problems will always be the responsibility of the human- not the dog.

Meet Logan and Skylar. Both dogs have been training with Underdog since they were puppies. Logan is a Shiba Inu- a breed often labelled as an “Untrainable”. Fortunately, Logan’s owners were confident in his ability to learn and they set about training this boisterous, bold, exceedingly clever and sometimes wilful puppy! Puppy School, Group Obedience, Advanced obedience and Agility- nothing was off limits with this clever Shiba and younger West Highland White terrier Skylar soon joined in too.

These videos are the result- and I hope by sharing these (with the owner’s permission) that anyone with an “Untrainable” stops and thinks twice. Chances are, your dog is not “Untrainable” at all and is simply challenging you to do something different, to try again, to ask another question, to find someone to help you, to learn a new set of training skills.


With Love, the Underdog Training team x

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