After seeing the madness on social media and then listening to a couple of FB lives by Denise Fenzi and Jane Ardern on how dog training needs to be more pragmatic and less fluffy, I have been inspired to add my take on this for what it is worth.
IMO dogs need to be well behaved in order to have a full and varied life. My dogs come with me everywhere I go and so need to be able to cope equally well with rural life and urban life; days where they get to have lots of freedom and dog focused activities and days where they have to be on lead with minimal dog focused activity.
As humans we recognise that we can’t do everything we want to do all of the time and we have to trade off less-interesting days in order to have more interesting days. We learn to deal with good days and bad days and keep on going.
It seems to me that there is a trend in dog training to only focus on the fun things that we can do with our dog and neglect the basic foundations. If a dog is going to stay in their first home then we, as professional dog trainers, need to give owners practical steps to achieving a dog who can do the basics well. Recall, walk on a lead, interact with the real world in a polite and robust way, settle when asked to, and manage certain impulses to an acceptable level.
Once these foundations have been achieved, then we can go on to other fun stuff.
The trend has been moving away from physical punishment which I think is brilliant, but there has not been as much focus on teaching owners how to add effective boundaries without using physical punishment. The emphasis has been on being purely positive, which in my opinion is not possible. As soon as you put a dog on a lead, even if it is attached to a harness, and stop them from doing something that they want to do, then some negative has been added.
We need to teach dogs how to cope with frustration and disappointment and the fact that they cannot always do what they want to do.
I use a lot of management alongside my training to achieve this with my dogs. I prevent them from learning bad habits by using leads, crates and doors. I try very hard to ensure that the management strategies I use do not cause fear or pain. I build a dog’s tolerance to being restricted gradually, and use a lot of positive reinforcement to make the management as pleasant as possible, but, at the end of the day, sometimes they just have to get over it and find a way to cope with the situation.
I have to go to work and so my puppies have to be crated for an hour at a time whilst I teach. They are given toilet breaks, along with appropriate physical and mental stimulation, but right from the beginning they have to learn that they will be restricted to a safe area while I am working.
This way my puppies learn good chew habits, to settle in many different environments, how to be bored and cope with it, how to be left on their own and not be stressed, not to steal food from the counter, and many other useful things.
I then take the time to educate them using positive reinforcement and choice-based exercises to be well adjusted and polite dogs that I can take anywhere and they are welcome back again!!! And yes, that does involve teaching them to sit on cue and to offer auto-sits as a way to ask permission to do certain things like going out of the front door, having their lead removed at the park, etc. I believe that self-management and impulse control should be a main thrust of our training as it teaches the dog to remain cognitive in progressively more challenging situations, thus facilitating their freedom and safety, because sometimes they need to do as they are told even when they don’t want to. Their lives may depend on it.
Photo by Farlap Photography