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University Professor Syndrome


Often times when you go to University it can be difficult for a professor to explain things clearly to their students because the subject matter is so easy to them. They cannot understand how someone cannot understand these basic principles. Often times a very good teacher is someone who has struggled with the course content and had to find a way to learn it. Teachers who can break learning into easy steps teach best. The same can happen with your dog. We are considerably smarter than our dogs (a case could be made to argue that :) ). Therefore we can assume that a dog understands something because it seems easy to us but the dog has no idea because they have not been fully trained on the subject matter. We see this happen all the time. People say "My dog is being stubborn". When in fact they have never been properly trained. After we spend a few minutes with the dog, breaking the behaviour down into an easier version they start to understand what we are asking and begin doing as asked.


Let’s give you an example. Have you ever noticed that many dogs understand Sit and Down when you are standing right in front of them? Then if you take a couple of steps away from the dog and ask them to Sit or Down they will come right up to you and then do their Sit or Down or they may remain where they are and not do the command? This is because you look a certain way when you give the command. Dogs are 8 times better at reading body language than people are. To us it doesn’t look much different when we are a few steps away but to a dog it can look very different.

If you tie that dog up so they cannot follow you and then you give the command for sit or down, many will struggle. A lot of people will think their dog is being stubborn. This is University Professor Syndrome in effect.

The way to know whether your dog understands and is in fact being stubborn or if they don’t know is to ask this question:

Does my dog:

  1. Know this command? Let’s use sit for example.
  2. Distance - Have they done the command at this particular distance and..
  3. Distraction Level - This particular distraction level 33 times in a row.

If you answer no then the dog most likely does not know what you are asking. If any one of those 3 things has not been done then a dog can falter and not know what you are asking.

Let’s again use sit as our example.

  • Does the dog know sit? Let’s say yes.
  • Distance - Has the dog done sit to a distance of 15 feet. Let’s say we want the dog to sit 15 feet away from the door when a guest comes in. Let’s say they have never done the command to 15 feet. We would then practice this command to 15 feet.
  • Distraction Level - Let’s say a guest comes into the house or you even so much as knock on the door yourself (this will get many dogs barking even with you knocking on the door). We have to ask ourselves “has the dog done the sit command at 15 feet with a guest coming to the house?” If no then we would need to practice sit at 15 feet with a guest coming to the house.

Once a dog has done the command at that particular distance and distraction level 33 times in a row then we know they understand the command (33 is a number we heard done as a study - some dogs will know sooner and very few will be more than 33). To really ensure your dog excels at that level it is best to do what we call Super Proofing. This is where you train your dog to a level over and above what you expect them to encounter. This makes your actual Goal Level very easy if your dog has been trained to a higher level.

Falling victim to University Professor Syndrome is very easy. It happened to me many times. We would get frustrated with the dog and think “I know you can do the command here, why can’t you do it over there? It is the exact same thing!” Then when we realized that every dog goes through that pattern it stopped frustrating us because we realized the dog was not trying to be stubborn, they just had no idea what we were talking about. It often didn’t take much of a change for the dog to not know what we wanted. We believe this is why so many people think you have to shout a command for a dog to listen. What we find is that if you train for these distances and distraction levels you can say commands in a very quiet tone, even a Whisper Command and the dog will follow through.

Next time you are frustrated with your dog ask yourself “Has my dog done this command at this distance and this distraction level 33 times in a row before?” If not then you know you have some work set out to do to teach your dog what you want.

Note: This is not to single out University Professors as many are excellent at teaching. Many of us have come across University Professors who really just want to do their research and are extremely intelligent on the matter. Some of these university professors can have a hard time breaking things down to people who don’t understand the subject matter.

You will also see this a lot when people say “It is common sense!” If the subject has never been taught to the person then it is not very common to them.

When I was in College I had a hard time learning things from some of the teachers. Luckily I befriended a girl who was very smart. She could figure it out on her own and explain it to me so I could understand.

If you are a smart person who catches on quickly it can be hard to understand this part of dog training. If you are slow at learning like I am you will know what I am talking about. It will help you break things down for your dog so they too understand what you are asking them to do.