Laying a good foundation to help our dogs be better pets
“I don’t want him to do any extra work! He won’t like that!” “She’s just here to keep me company, why would I bother teaching her all that stuff? We won’t ever use it.” “We already took a class with him. What a waste that was – he’s already forgotten it all.”
Trainers hear it all the time. While a growing number of pet owners are getting more involved in the world of training and behavior, there remains a steady population of those who couldn’t be less interested. Some believe training obedience to be a waste of time and energy, while others even find it cruel to make their dogs work for anything at all. As a trainer, this type of mindset frustrates me terribly. As a dog owner, it leaves me completely baffled.
Yes, it’s true that many training regimens and programs these days are too much for the beginner or even long-time dog parents. The industry is advancing quickly to keep up with the fast-growing world of dog sports and events, and the end is nowhere in sight. This can certainly be daunting, but even the pros had to start somewhere. Whether you hope to trial in agility one day or just need to fine-tune your furry companion’s manners, the benefits to basic training are countless.
The most obvious perk is a better behaved dog. No matter how much you adore your four-legged buddy, there is almost definitely at least one thing he does that drives you crazy. Maybe it’s a bad recall, maybe he jumps to greet guests, or perhaps you’ve been struggling with something such as housebreaking. Training allows you to replace these naughty behaviors with acceptable ones instead of having to manage these issues for the rest of the dog’s life. And for those who aren’t facing any major behavioral mishaps at home, training absolutely still has a place in your dog’s routine. For me, I wanted a dog that performs party tricks like fetching a cold can from the fridge. You may be looking to season a travel companion to see the world with you, or maybe you’re looking for your calling doing therapy work as a team. Training will get you there. If nothing else, you’ll strengthen your bond and the mutual respect between dog and owner will grow infinitely, once again leading to a happier, more peaceful life together.
Not only does training help make life with our dogs a little bit smoother for us, it also gives them a steady framework for how their world is supposed to work. Training builds a dog’s confidence and allows you to clearly set the expectations you have. Once your pup understands what you’re asking of him, he knows what to expect in the future when he’s faced with the same thing.
You see, dogs don’t understand situational boundaries. There can’t be gray areas – either something is allowed or something is not allowed. So many of us are guilty of trying to show love by occasionally breaking our own rules, but the only thing this does is create confusion.
Another argument against dog training as a whole is buried in the methods. We have old school owners who use old school techniques pitted against a newer generation of force free advocates who are looking to change the game entirely. Frankly, it can get mean and nasty if you get caught in the wrong spot, but it’s still not a valid excuse for not training at all. Simply find a trainer whose methods align with your beliefs, or spend some time studying on your own and use techniques that you personally agree with. Find a mentor that you can reach out to with questions. Every dog is different and so is every handler, so it may take some time to find a balance that works for you. As long as you remain respectful and keep your dog’s best interest at heart, the progress will come naturally with patience and persistence.
Finally, one more reminder when it comes to this collective indifference toward our dogs’ behavior is that training isn’t ever over. Taking one class through a major retail chain isn’t going to result in a rock star of a dog that never makes one mistake. In more than a decade of training, I’ve never stopped taking more classes and meeting more trainers. There are conferences and seminars for that sort of thing too. I always learn something new, and oftentimes it’s something that I never would have been exposed to had I not reached out to others. If you think your dog is a lost cause because he barely graduated from Fido 101, think again. Sometimes it just takes more repetition, other times very simple changes in technique or environment can lend to new success.
Long story short, when you undertake any kind of dog training, the dog isn’t the only one being trained. You’re going to learn plenty, too. I absolutely believe that every dog has something to teach you, and they’re not always easy lessons. But despite the struggles and the setbacks, there’s no excuse not to train your dog. He deserves the effort. After all, if you could give him a world that makes perfect sense to him, wouldn’t you?
by Taylor Herr
Daycare Attendant and Trainer