The Lassie Syndrome 

For decades Hollywood has used canine “actors” to create the illusion that dogs naturally have the ability to read your mind, understand your words and behave with proper etiquette…illusion being the key word there. If you watch carefully, you can see that the dogs on screen are not really paying much attention to their human counterparts and are taking cues from the trainer who is off camera. Many of these famous dogs started out with behavior issues and required a lot of professional training. Some of them have even bitten actors on set! Shh, that’s a Hollywood secret. Often, multiple dogs have been used to portray one dog, kind of like how movie stars have stunt doubles. Take Lassie for example: She was one of the most famous canine actors of all time, yet her role was actually played by multiple male dogs. It may have taken weeks of training, multiple retakes and some clever editing to create that amazing scene that tickles the viewer’s emotions. This “movie magic” is great entertainment but its effect on the public psyche is often called the “Lassie Syndrome” and, unfortunately, it causes a lot of heartache in the real world.  

Joe, as you may recall from the previous chapter, suffered a double dose of the Lassie Syndrome because his childhood dogs seemed to be so naturally well behaved, it made the doggie movie stars seem that much more believable. 

Joe’s preconceived notions caused a lot of resistance to my initial attempts to help get them on a training and behavior plan. Leashes, crates, baby gates, obedience training sessions and keeping household items out of chewing range? This struck Joe as being an absurd amount of work! Yes, he actually used the word absurd. I almost had to give up on the lesson because it was leaning towards being nothing more than an argument. I literally had to convince Joe to call his father on the phone and ask some questions about his childhood dogs from 20 years ago because I simply didn’t believe his memory was accurate. As it turned out, Joe’s father was an avid hunter and had several very well trained, well bred Labrador Retrievers that were not just “naturally good.” Joe’s dad revealed how he did most of the training himself but also how one of the dogs was very difficult and had to be sent away for six weeks to get professional training. Joe was shocked and exclaimed into the phone, “How did I not know this?” 

Moral of the story: Joe’s father was like the off camera dog trainers on movie sets and Joe was like a kid in the audience. He had been totally unaware of his Dad’s efforts and he now understood that the freedom his childhood dogs enjoyed was not just given freely. The freedom the dogs enjoyed went hand in hand with the training they received from his father…training that had started when they were puppies and which involved a lot of structure and preventative measures. Joe now had a new perspective and his mind was prepared to get started.  

An Ounce of Prevention

When Ben Franklin coined the proverb, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, he wasn’t talking about puppy training but he sure could have been. Preventing bad behaviors from happening in the first place is so, so, so much easier than trying to “fix” bad habits!  What Franklin called “a pound of cure” is what we in the dog behavior business call “rehab” and it can be a very long, challenging and emotional process. Rehab, even when successful, is rarely as good as getting it right the first time. 

Don’t get me wrong, dog behavior rehab is very exciting and rewarding work, it’s a large part of my job and I love it. Extreme rehabilitation is especially exciting and makes for great reality TV shows, such as Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, but, again, that’s Hollywood. Hollywood absolutely thrives on drama! Puppy owners, on the other hand, generally do not thrive on drama. In fact, many puppies are discarded due to the drama caused by common, predictable and preventable problems like soiling the house, digging, biting, barking and chewing. (all of which will be addressed in later chapters)

If you want a good Hollywood story, you need lots of drama. If you want a peaceful puppy experience, you need lots of prevention. 

The Smiths were completely unprepared and without an ounce of prevention. Within the first 24 hours they were already searching the internet for a pound of cure. They wanted the best for Fluffy. They wanted to save her from cramped living quarters. They wanted to give her freedom. These are great goals, but they gave too much, too soon and without any guidance. Luckily, with a little help from Joe’s father, I was able to get them on board with the realities of raising a puppy. (see: Shopping List to get an idea of what preparations are needed)

Mentally Preparing For The Puppy Journey

I almost couldn’t help the Smiths due to their strongly held, preconceived notions. Before I could even get started with the nuts and bolts of a puppy training program, I had to get them mentally and emotionally prepared so that they could hear, accept and implement the information. 

I started this book with the Smith’s story because I’m guessing that you may also have some preconceived notions about raising and training a puppy. I’m also guessing some of those notions will conflict with some of the information contained in this book. You may be experiencing some emotional conflict already and we have barely gotten started but that is totally okay. I’m not asking you to blindly believe everything I say. To the contrary, I would actually encourage you to be a little skeptical. Seriously, I mean, anybody can write a book but that doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about. 

On the other hand, I would also encourage you to have an open mind and consider the notion that this book could possibly contain the most solid, reliable, accurate and useful information available on the market today. I’m not saying it does, I’m just saying it could be possible. What I do know for sure, 100%, without question, is that I have tried my best to write a fair, balanced, honest and thorough book on raising and training a puppy. Fair enough? 

Great! Then let’s get busy putting together a puppy training plan that includes enough prevention to make good ol’ Ben Franklin proud.

Chad Culp – Certified Dog Trainer, Canine Behavior Consultant, Owner of Thriving Canine. 

© Thriving Canine 2023

We offer in-person training in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as virtual consults anywhere in the world.




Thriving Canine University private Facebook group. (please read the rules before joining)

Related Topics: