Dog Training in Everyday Life
Dogs weren’t domesticated thousands of years ago so they could be a pain in the neck.
They haven’t been our working partners and companions for those thousands of years because they destroyed our belongings and barked enough that our neighbors complained. Instead, dogs have continued to keep us company, motivate us to get outside walking and helped us in many other ways because life is better with dogs.
Dogs aren’t born knowing how to live with us, however. They have no idea that leather shoes shouldn’t be chewed even though they smell so good. They don’t know that the scraps in the kitchen trash can are not for them. To live comfortably and safely with us, they need to be taught what the rules actually are.
Unfortunately some dog owners avoid training. I think some are afraid it’s like a boot camp. Granted, years ago it was much like that but thankfully, things change and dog training is no longer something to avoid. In fact, if you’re doing it right, dog training is fun.
Formal Dog Training
When most dog owners think of dog training, they tend to think of formal dog training: working with a trainer to learn specific skills. Those skills generally include the basic obedience exercises: sit, down, stay, heel and come. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg; there is much more than that available to dog owners today.
Group classes usually consist of several dogs and their owners, a lead trainer (or instructor) and several assistant trainers. A good ratio is one instructor or assistant instructor to 3-5 students. The lesson plan usually includes the basic exercises plus exercises such as leave it (ignore that) and watch me (look at me). Many instructors also talk about problem prevention and solving. The benefit of a group class is that it is usually significantly less expensive than private training. The presence and actions of the other dogs and owners provide distractions for the dog to learn to deal with while learning to work with his owner. There is also often a feeling of group support when you attend with the same dogs and owners each week. The downfall of a group class is that there are many distractions—too many for some dogs.
Many trainers also offer one-on-one training. When just you, the trainer and your dog work together, you’re getting the trainer’s individual attention and the lesson plan can be planned for you and your dog. This is the primary appeal for many dog owners. However, private training is more expensive than group classes.
Behavior consultations that discuss your dog’s unique issues you’d like to address are available from veterinary behavior specialists or behavior consultants. A plan of action is put together and discussed. There is usually a follow-up to answer your questions and address any issues that may come up as you implement the plan. Prices vary.
Other options from various trainers might include board and train or walk and train, as well as plans developed for each individual and dog. There is an option for everyone. What’s important is to find a training option that will suit you, your dog, your schedule and your budget.
Formal training can teach you how to communicate with your dog, how to teach him what you want him to know, with a trainer overseeing your progress. But when those sessions end, that isn’t the end of training.
Implement that Training
I’ve talked to dog owners who enjoyed the training with their dog but once the training class or sessions were completed, the owner slacked off and soon the dog’s behavior slowly went back to what it was prior to the training. After all, a newly learned behavior that is no longer reinforced (rewarded) will soon disappear. I’ve found the best way to prevent backsliding is to use the new skills in daily life.
One of the first skills most dog owners teach their dog is to sit. Teaching a dog to sit when asked and then not to pop up from the sit until released, helps teach the dog self control; he learns he can control his own behavior. At the same time, he also learns that all good things happen in a sit. For example, if he sits rather than jumps up on people, he’ll be petted, praised and rewarded when he sits to greet people. When he sits while you attach his leash, then he’ll go for a walk. When he sits while you spread a blanket in the car, he’ll go for a ride. In other words, when you use the sit to help your dog control himself you can teach him good things happen in a sit. What a great lesson!
There are many different ways you can use your dog’s training. Ask your dog to sit and stay at the front door, yard gate, garage door and any other opening to the world. If you teach your dog to sit and stay in these spots and to wait there until given permission to go through, you can prevent many (if not all) dashes for freedom. You can teach your dog to lie down and stay away from the table when people are eating. You can have him sit by your side and be still when out on a walk and talking to a neighbor. There are lots of opportunities to use your lessons.
Keep in mind, your goal is not to turn your dog into a robot. You’re not going to make every decision for him or ask him to look at you before doing anything. However, you do want to prevent problem behaviors and keep your dog safe.
Take a Look at Your Life
To get an idea of where you can put your dog’s training to use, just take a look at your life with your dog. Try to see your routine as if you were a third person looking over your shoulder. Where is your dog getting into trouble? Does he steal food off the kitchen counter? Would life be easier (or safer) if he stayed out of the kitchen? Does he try to trip you as you walk down stairs? Does he get pushy with guests? Are the family cats worried about him because he’s too rough? Does he mob your guests? What else bothers you?
Once you have an idea of some things that you’d like to amend, change or stop altogether, then you can pick one to work on first. Don’t try to change 10 things all at once! Try to prevent the behavior from occurring when possible, but if it happens, interrupt it, then teach your dog what to do instead.
Let’s use the issue of jumping on people as an example. You can prevent the jumping by asking the dog to sit before people greet him. If you’re on a walk and your dog is on leash and a friendly, known neighbor asks to pet him, you can say, “Sure but hold on a moment. I’m teaching him manners.” Then ask your dog to sit, reward him and, when he’s sitting, let the person pet him. Then reward him again for sitting before releasing him from the sit.
So make this your mantra: teach the actions you want to happen. Prevent unwanted actions. Interrupt unwanted actions if they occur. Teach the wanted actions again. Repeat.