Train the dog, train the owner
Manners, manners, manners...
Dog owners often apologise to me for not having the perfectly trained pooch. They are even more surprised when I tell them my dog is not perfect either! It’s my belief that not all dogs have to be trained to top obedience level. A few manners, however, do make life considerably easier.
It can often be easy to train the dog but more difficult to train the owner! Almost every dog and owner, however, can benefit from a little training. From an animal behaviourist’s perspective, training can help:
Many owners are now aware of the benefits of taking their puppy to pre-school. Not only is there a valuable opportunity for puppy socialisation but owners also learn a few tips about caring for their new family member, including some simple training tips.
A few owners will go on to train their dogs throughout their canine lives. Many dog owners, however, fear that all canine training schools involve a 3 hour weekly obedience marathon of perfect sits, stays and recalls. They become frustrated with their less than perfectly obedient dog and embarrassed that they themselves cannot perform perfectly in this environment.
Instead training your dog should be fun – for both of you. I like to tell people that just 2 minutes of training a day can make all the difference to their relationship with their pet. You can even do this from the comfort of your armchair! It is good, however, to extend your training from within your home, to your yard, to walking outdoors, where there are many more distractions.
When training is set as a simple, no-fail opportunity then owners are more likely, not only to succeed in fulfilling the task, but to enjoy the joint activity with their dog. They are more likely to see the advantages of training and even to pursue it further.
When owners enjoy training or where there are specific issues in behaviour that need to be worked on, training classes can be beneficial.
Many owners find training where the emphasis is on fun preferable to those that are focused on more formal obedience work. Playing games and insisting on good manners are easy ways to train your dog to obey you. A dog that sits before you attach his lead is a joy as is a dog who lets you lead the walk.
If you simply want a dog with manners and one who will listen to you when you need it to, then try attending a Canine Good Citizen class. These operate nationally and are run by dog trainers that have undergone extensive training themselves, all of positive and motivational.
Some owners enjoy participating in canine sports such as flyball, agility, frisbee or dancing. These sports are terrific exercise and stimulation for dogs that are healthy and sociable.
Training for the Problem Dog
Some of the problems that are commonly relieved by incorporating training into your relationship with your dog include:
Where there is a behavioural problem, training can be invaluable on the road to recovery. For best results, get the help of an expert who can help you design the best form of training program for you and your dog.
Case Study: Banjo
Banjo was an over-the-top Boxer, 15 months of age, acting just like a puppy. His owner was frustrated with him because he did not listen to her, would not leave the room when she requested and jumped all over her children and visitors.
We set an increasingly difficult training program for Banjo and her owner to try. This included:
(a) Ask Banjo to come and to sit. Reward him when he did by giving him a treat.
(b) Same but wait for longer before giving him the treat.
(c) Wait for Banjo to perform a sit without being asked.
(d) Ask Banjo to perform other activities eg. down and reward him.
(e) Ask other people to do the same with rewards.
(f) Train Banjo in different location eg backyard, in street, in park.
(g) Only reward him with treats on some occasions. Others just say “good boy”.
Banjo’s owner saw improvements in his behaviour almost immediately. He started to want to obey commands and stopped jumping up, when reminded that he would only get his reward for sitting quietly.
Of course, the owners also ensured that Banjo had enough exercise and stimulation at home to keep him happy.
Case study: Brandy
Brandy was a 3 year old Border Collie living in the suburbs. Brandy had never received training and her owner wanted to get her involved in flyball but Brandy had a dislike of other dogs.
Together we designed a behavioural treatment program where Brandy and her owner did some simple training exercises together. After practising at home, Brandy’s owner asked Brandy to sit for a treat every time another dog was passing and Brandy soon learned that another dog’s presence brought rewards.
Soon Brandy was able to join in the flyball activities and her attention is focused on the game and her owner, not the other dogs.
Case study: Bella
Bella was a dog who liked to bark – a lot! She barked at everyone who passed by her fence and at her neighbours coming and going from their property.
Her family started to ask Bella to sit for treats. At first they did this away from the distractions of the neighbourhood and when this was mastered, they tried it when the neighbours were present. They also introduced Bella to the neighbours so that she accepted them and their activities on future occasions.
The family then working on rewarding Bella for quiet behaviour when other people and their dogs pass by. Now Bella, when she sees another dog outside her yard, runs to her family to receive a treat. She has learnt it pays to be quiet.