It’s Never a Blank Canvas in Dog Training

When people take on a dog, be that a puppy, rescue or re-home, they know their is work to do with any dog,  no matter the age, or breed.

Many people assume that a dog that is a “Blank Canvas” with no training, such a a puppy or rescue dog will be easy, assuming that the dog has no knowledge of it’s own. These owners then get frustrated with the dogs do things wrong, or don’t quite understand what your on about. Some owners are well aware of challenges ahead, but aren’t willing to change their plans to suit the dog.

No dog is a blank canvas, even an 8 week old puppy just leaving the breeder, can have as many marks, rips, tears and stains as a well used artists canvas. Breed traits, genetic selection and health issues.

Think of each dog as an artists canvas, every artist wants to start with a crisp clean canvas, with no marks, bumps or tears to interrupt the image you want to achieve. The image will set in your mind. The canvas you want to paint on unfortunately has a tear in it, or some black spots in the corners, and spot where the colour will seep and not sit still. These blemishes make it harder to achieve that image in your mind, and might result in you changing your end image to work round them. Some people will work over them, attempting to cover them up, others will incorporate them into the image and others might choose to remove attempt them all together.

These blemishes are traits in dogs, breed traits, learned behaviour from previous home, learning in your home, genetic issues and health issues that can all stand in the way of that idealist training plan in your head. These things have to be worked with, or trained out of the dog in order to achieve these goals, sometimes these things can’t be changed as they are part of the dogs personality. These things are not just in rescue dogs with issues, they are in puppies, and dogs without any training. Picking the wrong breed for the wrong home or job can result in conflict, which would mean a spoilt canvas. An example would be choosing a heading breed to do a retrieving job, while many can do it, it goes against their genetics, and this leads to conflict. The training, relationship and dogs behaviour will need tweaking as well as your own behaviour towards the dog, it will always be hard work to achieve the image you desire when your fighting against the blots, tears and dots all over the canvas attempting to make it the image you want, not the image it could be.

The medium you the artist uses can also influence the image, using watercolours on the wrong paper will make the image muddy, and colours tainted. Using acrylics and oils together might not work, adding in mixed media to the mix will result in a very wishy washy image, that might not be true to what you want. Adding in felt pens on the top, or changing from biro to coloured pencils will mean the image will be shaky til the new image comes through. Using water colour on the right paper will result in the best image, but you can add in biro over the top, or masking fluid to make it evolve.

These mediums are training methods, you will have a certain idea on how to train, or what training you will use, but understanding the dogs as an individual is the best way to go forward. Some people know how to use water colours best, but having a dog that is more of a oil paining you are going to clash on everything, as it just won’t work. Both evolving and working on the canvas with acrylics will result in that image you want, but only slightly changed from your original mental image.  These methods can be purely positive, all negative, a mix of the two or off the wall, I am not here to talk about training methods but different things work for different owners, and dogs.

Essentially it is fool hardly to assume a dog is a blank canvas, and you can create an image with all medium. Previous experiences, breed, your knowledge and experiences can change the way the image turns out. Whether you want a dog as a companion, working dog or sports dog you need to understand the image you want, and be willing to change it or edit it to suit you both.

I have learned to edit the way I work with dogs, and owners to achieve the goals we set. Each dog I work with teaches me something about dogs, and dog training. All knowledge that teaches me to work or repair my canvas. Sometimes we need to tweak the goals or look at getting the right dog for the owner. I have changed the mental goals with my own dogs dependant on the breed, experiences, new knowledge and the circumstances.

“No Dog is a blank canvas, they all have their rips, blemishes and patches. It is up to you as the owner to choose the right medium to pain the image you see for you both”

Basically stop blaming your dog for problems, and start looking at what your working with in terms of your dogs breed, history and temperament. Work outside the box and start adapting to create the piece of art.

Kathryn Jones FdSc AAB NTIPDU/MGoDT

A Clever Approach to Dog Training and Behaviour


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