Efficacy: What determines success?

Natural Dog Behavior
The biggest challenge in behavior work is determining why therapies work for some people and not for others. I have thought about this over the years and has worked diligently on giving better service to the clients, communicating effectively and providing the latest information in behaviour science. But there is more to it than that, there are certain indicators that I have learned to read that let me know in advance how successful any program with any client is going to be.

People will often ask about my ‘success rate’ to which I respond that I have “100% success rates with dogs, but sadly only about 80% with humans”. This usually gets a laugh, because everyone just knows that humans are much more challenging than dogs.

Why is This

We have huge primate brains and opposable thumbs, surely we can manage anything a dog can throw at us, but this isn’t necessarily so. People are very complex organisms that lead busy lives. We hate change but worse, we hate smarty-pants dog behaviorists telling us we have to change,  (even if this is what we paid him to do).

Some people will fight me tooth and nail over the therapies and techniques I have asked them to do. They will moan and complain about how busy they are, when all I have asked for is 15 minutes a day for their dog. This should highlight the reasons they are having problems with their dog (impatience, low frustration threshold and lack of commitment), but it doesn’t.


Creating change in your dog can be challenging work, not difficult, but challenging. It requires ‘plugged in – switched owners’ who understand that change must start and end with them. My sole responsibility is to show them what to do and how to do it: not do it for them. Some people think I should show up with magic powder and sprinkle it over their dogs – but it requires more than that.

When some people see how much effort this work actually requires, they start resenting it. Exercise routines and diets fail for the same reasons: not because the programs don’t work, but because people stop doing them. When results don’t come fast enough they give up.

While this failure should make them fully understand why they are having problems to begin with, ironically it allows them to think that they aren’t the problem – because if a behaviorist couldn’t fix it, then I must have a ‘broken dog’.

The Dog

While all of this is going on, the dog will pay the freight for their owners laziness, ambivalence and complacency. When I work with a client, I take my advocacy for their dog very seriously. Sure I am kind, diplomatic and understanding (mostly) with the owners, but the dog is always my first priority.

In some weird way I can understand people who punish and abuse their dogs, they are obviously dysfunctional and have deep problems, I get that. However, I really struggle with seemingly reasonable and rational people who even after having it pointed out, cannot or will not do what it takes to help their dogs. I have to get in my car and drive away knowing that dog isn’t going to get what it needs – that keeps me up nights.

The Right Ingredients

It isn’t all doom and gloom, luckily most people most of the time can and do succeed. This makes me happy. Here is a list of ingredients that ensure success for any work with your dog:

  • Commitment to the process
  • Realistic expectations
  • Thorough understanding of the behaviour and what causes it
  • Balanced energy (described by some as being “calm assertive”)
  • Consistency
  • Ability to organize and schedule training routine
  • Understanding that YOU must do the work
  • Patience – Patience – Patience



My best advice to clients is to ask as many questions as you can, be aware of what is involved – this is your responsibility. Also, be patient with your dog and yourself. If you are struggling with the techniques and therapies don’t be embarrassed, call or email – I can’t help you if I don’t know.

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