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all articles by Lisa Lafferty unless otherwise noted.  Some previously published on K9Station (defunct) under author's previous name Lisa Giroux

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Why Train Your Dog?

You got a dog because you wanted the companionship of a really good dog, right?

Let me give you a no-holds-barred, very blunt piece of truth.  This is a fact that is poorly understood by most of the dog owners that I see in my classes.  A lot of people don't plan for the future.  They don't understand basic behavioral traits of a normal dog if left unguided; then, after months of no planning and no action taken, they call me to "fix" things.  But that's the best-case scenario, that a person calls a dog trainer and goes to classes.  What happens all too often is that they re-home the dog rather than making this effort.

So here's the blunt piece of truth.  You need to train your dog to get that companion.  Training does not need to involve a bunch of drilling around the back yard, but it SHOULD involve careful, thoughtful guidance throughout the dog's first year or so in your home.  If your goal is to get a dog that fits perfectly in your life, seamlessly becomes a family member, that doesn't have major habits that you hate...this requires THOUGHTFUL EFFORT for a LONG TIME.

That sounds rather forbidding, but the reality is that if you crank down and really work for the first two weeks, you can relax some and then just be consistent from then on.  After the first six months or so, you still need to be consistent and prevent things, but by that time it should be pretty seamless and easy.

The first thing you should do before getting a dog is choose the RIGHT dog.  Whether you go to a shelter, rescue, or breeder, pick a dog that already has traits that look like they will fit into your family.  I love Bearded Collies.  I hate grooming.  I am also poor.  A Bearded Collie would not be a good choice for me, as I would either have to overcome my hate of grooming, or pay a lot of money on a regular basis to keep my dog un-matted and looking good.  I love husky dogs.  I live on a small farm with chickens and rabbits and only six acres.  Husky dogs love to run, far, don't stay at home, and are generally high in prey drive.  I would be very foolish to think that a Husky would be a good fit for my family.  So, in short, don't get a Border Collie and expect it to act like a Pekenese.

But, you want to know why to train, and you probably want to know what to train.

  1. Prevent the dog from learning unwanted behaviors, right from the beginning.  More on this later in the article.

  2. Get your dog on a Listening for Life/Nothing in Life is Free program from the beginning.  Dogs thrive on routine and knowing exactly what is expected of them.  If you don't show them, they will invent routines and habits that are their own ideas, and most of the time these habits and routines will NOT be pleasant for your family.  How would you feel if you showed up at a new job, and your manager showed you your office and said, "have fun, go nuts, I'm sure you'll get the hang of it," and then over the next weeks and months yelled at you every time you did something he didn't like?  You would feel insecure, maybe even angry and you sure wouldn't like or trust your boss, would you?  Listening for Life is a program that doesn't allow the dog to be insecure or lack trust in you.  Instead, it shows him (in a very positive way!) the parameters of his life with you.  Dogs that know what is expected of them comply happily and are far less stressed when they have a true leader and teacher. This means, YOU.  Please read the highlighted article for more information.

  3. Know and understand how to housetrain a dog, whether it's a puppy or an adopted adult.  www.pantherranchfarmdogs.com/training/housetraining.htm  If you do not THOUGHTFULLY plan for housetraining, the odds are your dog will eventually learn...but it could take months, or it could evolve into a dog that is MOSTLY housetrained but still has marking accidents or sneaks off to the back bedroom to take a dump.  Plan your housetraining and you will not experience these horrible hassles!

  4. Decide AS A FAMILY what is allowed and not allowed in the house.  Everyone must be on board in a big way and reinforce these rules!  Consistency is key.  Common rules that I like to suggest are:  no feet on people (jumping up), no play-mouthing, no blasting out of ANY door, ever, calm quiet behavior at the door when guests knock (or at least, biddable enough to stop barking and calm down when you tell them to), calm behavior in the car (no in-car barking or reactivity to things they see--just a settled-down ride).

  5. First priority is to teach an excellent recall, most commonly called "the come command."  This cue should be thoughtfully taught from the MOMENT you get the dog.  Even a very small puppy is ready for this fun, educational training! Dogs that are not trained to do this develop the habit of bolting, playing keep-away, and generally being hard to catch. This is a big problem if you want to exercise your dog off-leash, which they desperately need.  If they don't get that exercise, they start getting squirrely in the house and become a big pain in the butt.  If they bolt out the door when the mother of the household is trying to care for little kids that she can't leave to go chase the dog, soon the parents will get pretty sick of the hassle of having a dog.  At worst, your dog will get hit by a car because he doesn't listen, or get lost in the woods and fall prey to a coyote.  Don't let this happen to you!  Here is an article on how to do it.  www.pantherranchfarmdogs.com/training/come.htm

  6. A sit, down and a stay are wonderful tools to have when you own a dog and let you direct and manage the dog's behavior.  Down is excellent as well.  Fortunately these are super easy to train!  Go to the Training Tips page for instructions!

  7. Walking nicely on the leash.  From the beginning, you musn't let your dog reach the things he wants to see by lunging or pulling, or you will effectively teach your dog to lunge and pull.  Did you know that pulling on the leash is a productive behavior, WHEN YOU ALLOW YOUR DOG TO REACH WHAT HE IS LOOKING AT?  Don't teach your dog to do this.  Dogs that pull do not get walked as often.  Dogs that don't get walked as often get less exercise.  Dogs that aren't taken along because they pull and lunge don't get the full, "included" experience of their family.  Please take steps to teach your dog how to walk nicely on the leash.

You may be wondering how all of this is possible while still living your normal, day-to-day routine.  It sounds like a monumental task, doesn't it?

The answer is to simply plan to take a little extra time as you move through daily life, a minute here, a minute there, while you include your dog in your life.  Instead of taking 30 seconds to put on your coat and head out the door, take 1.5 minutes showing your dog how to go through a door politely, without rushing or bolting through.  Instead of just throwing the car door open and letting the dog blast out, take 30 seconds to have him sit/stay/be released out of the car.  When planning on taking the dog to the car, give a few extra minutes to make sure he's not pulling you all the way there.

Keep in mind that although you do have to keep training for the whole life of the dog to maintain behaviors, the hardest part is the first six months or so.  After that, when the dog understands what is expected and has developed a give-and-take relationship that comes ONLY through repeated rehearsals of the things you want him to do, it becomes easy.  You will have that canine companion that looks to you for direction, rather than looking at how to push THROUGH you to get what he wants.  You will have a dog that makes eye contact, wags his tail, gives you that expectant look of "what's next, please?"  All it takes is a little extra time in the beginning of your dog's life with you to create that perfect companion.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you when it comes to training, though, is that you need to PREDICT what might happen.  I can honestly say that the largest portion of dog training is simple prevention of the dog getting experience doing things you don't want.  Practice makes perfect--and this is true of ANYTHING.  If you want your puppy to learn to pee on the floor, the best way to do it is to LET HIM PEE ON THE FLOOR.  If you want your dog to learn to raid the trash bin, the best way to do it is to give him the opportunity, let him see how he's a Trash Lottery winner, and therefore give him a very good reason to know that trash raiding is productive.  Want your dog to learn how to jump up and be excited at the door?  Why, that's easy.  Simply greet him in an excited way when you come in, then pet him and hug him when he's jumping on you.  Oh, and don't forget to allow your guests to squeal and get excited when THEY come over, and then make sure they hug and pet the dog (all while saying, "It's OK, I just LOOOOOVVVVE dogs!" 

Tongue in cheek humor aside, go back to the rules and regs your family decided on.  Then be thoughtful, have foresight, and prevent unwanted learning.  This is possibly the most important training advice I can give you.  Don't REACT to what happens.  Take ACTION to prevent and guide the behaviors you want.  Think about all of the items on the list above.  Nearly every piece of advice I give you is about preventing the unintentional learning that takes place when the owner does not give thought and time to preventing unwanted habits from forming.

You will have your beloved dog for about 14 years.  You can afford to invest the thought and time for the first six months or so.


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Lisa & Kerry Lafferty  /  ozarklisa@gmail.com  /    Mountain Home, Arkansas