A doberman's paws as seen from the side, laying down

Trust And Communication: Lessons In Dog Training From Major The Doberman

Major Was The First Doberman I Ever Met.

Dobermans are loyal dogs and Major was no exception. He was owned by my stepfather’s mother, my Nana. To say he was loyal to Nana would be an understatement. They had a very special dog and dog-owner relationship. When my Nana would go out to Bingo, he would stuff his nose in one of her slippers and sulk until she got home. No one could go near him. He was inconsolable! 

I knew this. 

But, like kids often do, I thought I could make him feel better. So, I put my hand out and told him it was “O.K.” Predictably, it was not O.K. and Major snapped at me. I was so close to him that he could have done some real damage but, as it turned out I barely had a scratch. I was surprised and maybe a bit scared but mostly my 10-year-old pride was hurt. 

Major went back to sulking in Nana’s slipper and I went back to my video games

You Can’t Speak People To Dogs. They Don’t Get It.

Major taught me two very valuable lessons that day. 

First, he taught me that Dobermans are loyal to the bone. In Major’s case, maybe even loyal to a fault! Not only did he sulk when Nana was out of the house he also protected her fiercely by barking and driving strangers away from the door – just ask the poor mailman! 

Second, and more importantly, he taught me to respect the fact that dogs are not people.

Doberman sitting in a green field
Dogs aren’t people and it is important for dog owners to respect that fact. Learning to ‘speak dog’ allows for greater trust and communication while training your dog.

However good my intentions were, my gesture of an outreached hand and words did not comfort Major like I wanted them to. I knew he wanted to be left alone but I encroached on his space anyways. His growl and snap were him offering me a correction! I was not paying attention to what he was telling me, so he had to make himself clear the only way a dog can – through actions. When I changed my behaviour (aka. stopped bugging him), all was well and there was no trust lost in the relationship. 

Dogs speak their own language made up of sounds, expressions, postures, and movement. Part of being a responsible dog owner means learning to hear them. At the time, I didn’t know how to “speak dog” and that led to miscommunication.

Trust And Communication: The Two Essential Ingredients In Dog Training.

While I didn’t go about things in the right way, my instinct about Major’s behaviour was right. In time, with trust and communication, a dog’s behaviour can change. My mistake was assuming that I could influence Major’s behaviour without laying the groundwork. This is a perfect example of why it is so important for kids to be involved with training a family pet. I was 10 years old and had no real understanding of dog behaviour. I loved Major (he really was a great dog!) but my expectations of him were too human!  

Dog training is all about changing behaviours so that life with your dog is enjoyable, fun and safe. Learning how to communicate with your dog is essential to the process. How else can you set and enforce boundaries? 

Major’s reaction that day taught me that communication is a two-way street. As dog owners, we have to learn to speak dog so that our dogs can learn to speak people. Training without clear communication and understanding will get you nowhere fast. It takes time and commitment, but it’s worth every minute. Major was unwavering in his loyalty to Nan – they understood each other perfectly and had a great relationship. 

By the way, I never did convince Major that things were O.K. when Nana went out; he just kept right on sulking in those slippers.

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