From Kindergarten to College: A Lesson in Dog Training
I get this “problem” with dog owners all of the time.
They kind of expect their dog to go from a Kindergarten education straight into college without any training or education in between.
People think if they have taken their dog to a dog obedience training class, or puppy class, or have read a book and done some very basic training at home (for some it was years ago) that their dog should be as well behaved and well trained as my dogs or other dogs they see on TV or online in videos.
But the truth of the matter is that there is a lot of time and training in between your first group class or a little work at home, and hitting the field, competing and getting a first place trophy.
Now most of you have no desire to compete, but you do have a desire to have that kind of obedience from your dog.
- When I say NO or “Leave It” my dogs listen.
- When I say “Sit” three little rumps hit the ground.
- When I call my dogs, they come running.
- When they are distracted I either have them “Leave It” or give me eye contact and focus so they can’t pay attention to whatever is distracting them.
I didn’t stop with basic obedience and I don’t just train in my home.
I started like everyone else in the confines of my home doing basic things like sits and downs and stays and getting eye contact and focus, then we moved outside in the front yard, in the back yard and as my dog got better and had about 90% obedience in these places, I began to add distractions.
It Is a Slow Process
It is a slow process and the more you try to force it or rush it the harder it is for your dog to add to it and move forward. How long did it take you to get into college or get your degree??
I tell all my students in our “Companion Dog Program” work on having a firm foundation and don’t move on until you have it.
If I don’t have good eye contact and focus in my own home and with small distractions, I can’t expect to heel past another dog who is walking past or even barking at me and my dog.
I can’t expect my dog to leave the neighbor kids alone and not get excited if I have never worked him around children.
I spend a lot of time working with, training, and socializing my dogs to ensure that they listen in all environments.
Dogs Don’t Think Like Us
Dogs don’t think like us; they can’t reason and their brains are just smaller (by no means am I knocking dogs and I think they are capable of much more than we give them credit for but that is a different article).
They don’t associate being able to sit and train at home with no distractions around, with being able to sit and listen in a group of wild children, or sit and pay attention to you as an aggressive barking dog passes you on a walk.
They are simple; they need to be taught their basic and advanced obedience over and over and over again in different environments.
Essentially They Need to Go Through School
Essentially they need to go through the equivalence of 12 years of school too before we expect them to have a college level of knowledge or obedience!
How can we expect our dogs to do advanced obedience without us ever teaching them first?
Train, Don’t Complain
One of my favorite statements is “Train, Don’t Complain”, if you have things to complain about you need to amp up your training and work on the things your dog and you need to conquer or accomplish.
These things won’t train themselves or work themselves out!
We are crucial to making sure our dogs get the training that they need. They need someone to “teach them”.
Imagine for a moment you grab an ACT and SAT test that kids take before they enter college; and stopping by your local kindergarten class to see if the kids there could pass?
What are the odds of having one of those kids pass these tests. I’m guessing 0 (zero).
So Why Then Do We Expect Our Dogs to Teach Themselves or Learn on Their Own
So why do we think it is ridiculous for a kindergartner to pass the ACT or SAT but we expect our dogs to do their own training.
They should certainly know how to teach themselves to “stay” and to walk nicely on a leash, how not to chase the cat (even though this is such fun) and all of our other insane expectations.
At Home Training
I start with all of my dogs at home for their training needs. This is where I tackle sit, down, patience/stay, coming when called and general manners.
My dogs are kept on leash so I can prevent them from stealing my underwear and grabbing the cat.
By keeping them on a leash it also keeps them from assaulting my other dogs and pets and it almost forces me to teach manners.
For example, if my dog is on a leash at my feet and she decides to begin chewing on the carpet (imagine how much fun it is to shred carpeting if you are a dog) I have the means to stop her.
Instead of chasing her throughout the house I can take her away from the area and exercise her (if she is chewing the carpet chances are she is bored) or give her something appropriate to chew on, because all dogs need to chew!
My leash is my lifeline to a well behaved dog. And, when I visit friends my dogs are used to being on a leash and hanging out with me; which keeps them from tormenting my friends’ pets or stealing their underwear *embarrassing!!!
So they get all of their manners at home.
AND, I focus on rewarding the good things so that I see them more often. We pray to avoid the many, many BAD behaviors (like stealing and eating underwear) because I keep that from happening.
I also keep them from jumping on people by using a leash… is there a better way??
I often take a dog obedience training class after my dogs have a handle on the basics of obedience and listen to me well.
Taking a class after you have solidified training kind of “proofs” your training and makes it better; I think dogs have trouble “learning” in a class environment.
But if you have already taught your dog and you are patient you can work him through his obedience with other dogs and distractions around.
YES, I take obedience classes even though I am a professional.
A lot of times I have more experience and knowledge and a better trained dog than anyone in class (including the instructor), but it is crucial to learning and good dog training to be able to do so in a crowded and distracting environment and classes help me to achieve these goals.
Bump it Up
Now once you have achieved these goals, bump it up and work on intermediate and advanced obedience.
Remember it is not about just one 8 week class.
I do agility and dock diving and weight pulling as well as carting with my dogs.
Education for you and your dog should be a lifelong goal and the more you do the more you will reap!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.