Monday, April 16, 2012
Dog training isn't a hard concept to grasp, and neither is teaching your dog. It's a commitment you make to your pet. You are the teacher and your dog is your student. Some dog breeds are harder to train than others, not because they aren't smart enough to learn, but because of their breed characteristics. Any dog can learn, if you take the time and commit to his education. Training a dog isn't just about teaching basic commands. For some dogs, it's also finding something they like to do and then teaching the necessary skills needed to succeed in whatever it is. You could say it's a college education for your dog.
Most owners understand why their pet needs to know certain commands that help to keep them safe and under control. Dogs are also capable of learning things on their own just by watching and listening to us. My dogs figured out on their own what “back up” and “wait” meant because those are two commands I've always used when it's time to go outside to their pen. “Back up” means give me a chance to open the basement door, and “wait” means let me get down the steps so you all don't knock me down the stairs. It hit me one day when I forgot something and turned around. They were standing behind me patiently waiting for me to open the door. Yep, I had a light bulb moment and learned something about dog training at the same time.
Training shouldn't be a boring chore for you or your dog. Make it fun and interesting – playtime with your dog. As long as there's a commitment by you to reinforce what it is you want them to learn, they will learn, even if you don't realize you're teaching them. That's the beauty of dog training. Most dogs do want to learn and are willing students who pay attention to what we say and do. Positive reinforcement, commitment, plenty of CANIDAE treats and praise are the tools you need to teach your dog.
Giving your dog a job to do isn't a must, but if you have an energetic dog with a high prey drive or one that's well socialized, friendly and likes people, you have a pet that could excel at agility or as a therapy dog. Of course, dog sports or jobs require additional training for the specific activity. In most cases, you can find classes that can help you teach your pet what they need to know. Langley Cornwell introduced us to the sport of Treibball earlier this year. It's a growing activity for dogs of any size or age.
To dogs, a “job” means play. Teaching the skills needed to do the job stimulates their mind and gives them a great outlet to get rid of excess energy. Dogs get into trouble when they don't get proper exercise and can develop bad behavior when they're cooped up inside all day with nothing to do. Finding the thing your dog enjoys doing may also give you a chance to discover something new and fun as well.
We had a dog that was rescued from an abusive home. When she came to live with us, she didn't even have a name. We named her Angel because she was an angel. Finding what a dog loves to do is the best way to help them recover from a bad experience with a previous owner. Angel learned we could be trusted, and we discovered she loved to chase balls and catch Frisbees. In her case, our commitment to her training is what helped us nurture and grow a bond with a dog that needed to heal from emotional scars.
Dogs move on from bad experiences with abusive owners, but I'm not convinced they forget as easily as some people think. I do believe they know when someone is treating them with kindness and respect. Positive reinforcement and a commitment to their training is an interactive solution to correct most bad behavior in dogs. It's a way to learn about who your dog is and help them find a way to work through what's bothering them. Dogs do like to please us, but it's also a way for us to please our dog by giving them a job they love to do and teaching them the skills they need to know in order to be successful.
It doesn't make any difference if a dog competes in a sport, comforts people in a hospital or does any other type of job, or none of the above, it's what they learn along the way that matters. It's the commitment to training we give our dogs that gives them the skills to be the best they can be. Figure out what it is your dog loves to do. You might be surprised what you discover.
Photo by Crystal Rolfe
Read more articles by Linda Cole