By Jeff Stallings, CPDT-KA
One reason some people give up on training their dogs is that they come to feel that it’s just another chore, a task that falls by the wayside when life gets out of control. I would advise someone who feels this way to try thinking of each interaction with their dog as training, and then think of all training as communication. Inter-species communication! What could be more interesting than that?
Too often dog owners complete the basics (“sit” and “come”, perhaps “down” and “stay”), then become complacent and accepting of behaviors that could easily be addressed. But even beyond behavior problems I would suggest that not giving your dog new tasks to master is squandering an opportunity to deepen your connection. When you teach your dog new tricks (yes, even old dogs) you are essentially broadening the “language” common between you.
If, for example, you teach your dog to retrieve his leash before walks, not only do you now have a deeper level of understanding, you’ve also give him a job to do. And dogs like to work! The brattiest dogs around are the over-coddled guys who are smothered with affection, treats and food without being asked for anything in return. Don’t you appreciate things in life more if you’ve planned and worked for them? The same is true for your dog.
If you have a difficult dog, perhaps one who is too aggressive or overly fearful, providing more structure in general via commands, tricks and “jobs” can also help with those issues. For instance, if you’ve trained your dog to bring your keys or jump through a hoop, the communication required for learning those tasks will make the communication required to calm an aggressive dog more effective as well.
The reason this is all a duty but no chore? Because if you add it all up, it likely comes to less than a half hour a day (aside from the pure exercise time.) And this is quality, life-enriching time for you and your dog, well spent.
I follow the exercise/direction/affection strategy with my dog Otis and I encourage my clients to implement this hierarchy as well. You can’t teach your dog direction (commands and jobs) unless she is well-exercised, and you oughtn’t give your dog affection unless she’s “earned” it, say, by calming herself down from an overly excited state or calmly sitting when asked.
Finally, remember that training is an on-going process, progress is incremental, and most importantly, that your dog wants to learn. He’s a smart animal, so please, let him exercise his brainpower.
Keep it fun for both of you and neither of you will want to stop learning!