Tonight while teaching an outdoor group class I noticed a dog who was constantly with his head down trying to sniff the ground. His owner continued to pull his head up, but over and over again the dog forced his weight against the collar to get his muzzle back to the pavement. Again, his owner persisted in picking his head up and continuing on with our heeling exercise, despite the constant battle with his dog. This prompted me to gather all my students around after the exercise ended to give a quick lecture on life rewards, and how they affect your dogs everyday behavior.
My lecture went something like this…
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why it’s been so easy for me to train my newest puppy in such a short period of time. Granted, I’ve been training dogs professionally for over ten years, but I’m talking about something much simpler than the fact that I have a ton of experience. I’ve had my new puppy in my home for roughly two months, and he’s already potty trained, off leash reliable, and obedience trained to all the foundations for obedience. He comes every time I call him, he stops when I say “no” every time he’s doing something naughty (like trying to eat a small piece of plastic the cat found), he waits for me to put his food dish down, he goes in his kennel on command without hesitation, he doesn’t bark, doesn’t put his feet up on my counters and hasn’t been pulling on his leash. I’ve come to the conclusion that my being an excellent dog trainer has little to do with why my dog is pretty much perfect at only 8 months old, but the fact that I’m a control freak has everything to do with why my dog is perfect.
Some might call it over the top, I call it worth the effort. If in the beginning you take the time to control every interaction your dog has the world around him, proving to him that you are the ultimate gate keeper of all things good, then before you know it your dog actively chooses the behaviors you prefer him to choose and avoids doing the behaviors that result in a punishment. Punishments can vary from a strong verbal correction to a startling clap to time out in a kennel. You should always follow the guidelines of LIMA when deciding what type of punishment is appropriate. Rewards can vary from petting and verbal affection, trips outside, playtime, mealtimes or the opportunity to interact with other dogs.
But isn’t being a control freak no fun for my dog? This is where you’re wrong!
Dogs find security in knowing the rules. They have been bred, custom built, as domestic canines, to learn how to live in our life — not the other way around. Yes, the first few days to the first week can be very challenging and maybe your dog doesn’t earn a lot of freedoms (fun) during that adjustment period. But you’ve got 12-15 years of love, life and FUN ahead of you! If your dog learns how to behave appropriately you’re maximizing the amount of FUN you can ultimately have together. You have to think long term goals when it comes to the early stages of dog training.
As a dog owner, it’s your job to truly understand your dog. what motivates him, and use those things to train your dog. If you can suck it up and be a control freak for the first few months of life with your dog, you might be surprised at how little food treats you have to use to get good behavior. Positive dog training isn’t about food, it’s about rewarding behaviors you want. And, on the same token, all dog training is about providing a consequence for behaviors you don’t want. But the most important thing you have to remember, every single second of every single interaction of every single day living with your dog is that your dog is always learning. So, will he learn that good behavior gives him access to rewards? Or will he learn that bad behavior is acceptable and he can still have all the things he wants like playtime, time at the park, dog friends, etc.
The choice is yours my friends! Your dog is waiting for your next move. Make it count.
Now… please excuse me because I’m going to go have fun, off leash, outdoors, with my perfect dog.
Dee Hoult, MBA, CDBC, CPDT, CTDI
Dee is the owner of Applause Your Paws Dog Training, South Florida’s largest privately owned pet dog training company, and Miami’s number one user rated and reviewed dog trainers on yelp.com. At only 33 years old she’s semi retired these days from training dogs, but maintains her great sense of humor and no nonsense attitude when it comes to training dogs to be the ultimately human companion. With her new found freedom found through her successful business, Dee volunteers regularly in the animal welfare community, mentors other entrepreneurs, and dedicates her time to reading, writing and traveling. Dee shares her home with her English husband, two border collies, a yellow labrador, and two cats. Her key to success? Be so busy working on your own grass that you don’t have time to worry if someone else’s grass is greener. Woof.