Training Dogs

Since I got my first real dog (real meaning I was an adult and I got to keep it for its whole life!), Truffleupagus, in 1987, I’ve had something like 26 dogs — not all at once, though.

 

Truffle and me, 1988

Truffle and me

Dog training is a skill, and I didn’t always have it. Now, I have a pretty good idea of what’s involved when I get a new dog. I’ve learned that sometimes I need expert help, and twice I have sent my dogs to “boarding school.” One of them was Dusty T.  (T for “traumatized”) Dog, the other was the beautiful wild thing, Cheyennie T. Wolf, a smart, willful, humorous three-year-old Siberian husky who’d lived in a backyard all her ilfe.

I have never trained a dog to do anything fancy like agility or even go precisely through movements of a dog show. My dogs have all been taught to be companions in the house, to go on hikes and walks, and to have decent manners with my friends. They’ve been trained to be nice to children and (mostly) not jump up on people, something that’s necessary when you have big dogs.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Different breeds have different needs. Sometimes the things they have been bred for are at odds with what humans need. Dogs like Siberian Huskies have been bred for centuries to do specific things that aren’t always in line with human expectations (unless you live in Siberia, have a dog team and need furry babysitters). Breeds like golden retrievers, Aussies, Labs (and Bear) watch and observe you to see what you would like and then do it. Study up on your dog’s breed and tailor your training to that. Here’s the list from the American Kennel Club.

I have not had terriers, non-sporting dogs or toy dogs, but I’ve had herding dogs, sporting dogs, a hound (beagle), working dogs (huskies) and now I have a mutt (Doberman/Lab and a livestock guardian dog (Akbash). They present different challenges in training. Some of the easiest dogs to train are mutts, dogs whose ancestry is a mystery.

  1. Walk your dog and if you can’t, get a breed that doesn’t need to be walked. Cesar Milan is right that walking a dog establishes a bond between the dog and the owner AND it tells the dog who the pack leader is. I believe in leashes, but not everyone does. Some dogs (like Dusty) can actually be trained to stay beside you and in your control when they are off leash, but this training takes time. Leashes help keep your dogs safe.

    Leash training can be difficult or easy depending on the breed, age of dog and the amount of patience you have. Ideally, you’ll have a golden retriever puppy who will arrive at your house and hand you a leash (ha ha).

    I took Truffleupagus to school so I could learn how to train her. The school used choke collars. The way a choke collar works is when the puppy pulls, you pull directly up on the choke collar. This is supposed to communicate to the puppy that you don’t like what it’s doing. For this to actually happen the collar has to be on properly and the person has to be attentive and demanding. Honestly, they never worked for me with Truffle or any other dog. But the IDEA is sound.

    In the meantime, other devices were invented. Because I’m a little person with big dogs, I use a Halti brand of gentle leader. These are very useful. For training, the dog is stopped in a body-part it understands; its nose. For just walking a dog who is not a champion on-leash heeling hero (such as Dusty T. Dog) the Halti prevents the dog from pulling (except maybe in extreme situations like a C-A-T or something).


    How you train your dog depends on you. Bear is a breed who cannot go off leash ever. This kind of messes with her instincts (which are also why she can’t go off leash). She wants to track, guard, protect and what that means on a walk is if she smells something she must find it or I am in danger. Dogs like Bear wander the hills with their sheep all on their own for days. Bear doesn’t have that possibility so we compromise. Most of her leash walks are random wandering around places where she can smell and track to her heart’s content — but she wears a Halti. Today we covered a couple of miles on one tiny part of the golf course where roam raccoons, badgers, elk, deer, feral cats and other dogs. She needs this and a mile is a mile.

  2. Spend LOTS of time training your dog but keep training sessions short. From your dog’s perspective, basic obedience is GREAT. It’s FUN. You’re there with the dog, it has your undivided attention, it’s making you happy (it wants to!) and it knows this because you’re giving it pats and treats. Training sessions should start with puppies and continue for the dog’s whole life. From the dog’s perspective, it’s not training, it’s sharing a special moment with you. It reinforces the bond between you and teaches your dog what makes you happy.

    It’s important that a dog (even a Siberian husky anarchist from hell) learn sit, down, stay, stop, wait, come.Treats are a dog’s language for “good dog” but so are pats and toys. You can teach your dog to accept all of those as rewards just by switching them around and not being predictable.

    Bear loves to heel at the end of a long ramble of smells and snow. She will position herself under my left hand and walk close enough to me that I can pet her as we go along. It’s all she wants and it makes both of us happy. Her behavior has reminded me how MUCH our dogs want to be near us.

    Bear went to puppy school and we learned the routine for performing at a dog show. She LOVES it. I practiced with her at the local high school parking lot and still, three years later, if I turn into that parking lot on one of our walks, Bear immediately shifts into her obedience routine. We usually do it two or three times a week. Obedience is not fascism.
  3. Don’t be afraid of electronic training devices that “hurt” your dog HOWEVER you should try to avoid hitting your dog. Cheyennie T. Wolf was incorrigible, having spent the first years of her life in a back yard ignored. My trainer had to resort to an electric collar to get Cheyennie to stop counter surfing, pay attention on a leash, and not run away. Within two hours of the collar, Cheyennie didn’t need the collar any more. The point of this kind of training aid is that it’s temporary. After that, whenever Cheyennie wore her training collar (I put it on her without ever turning it on) she got incredibly happy because she knew she was going to get undivided attention and treats and she was going to do things right.

    Hitting your dog is a bad idea, but sometimes it happens. Hitting a dog with a newspaper or something soft or occasionally because you’ve had it and can’t take any more, well, it happens, but your dog doesn’t know why it’s happening. Punishing a dog after the misbehavior is meaningless because a dog doesn’t have the same concept of time humans have. You want corrections to coincide with misbehavior.

    This is a “sentence” translated from dog immediately after a dog is corrected for doing something wrong RIGHT THEN — “If, I, the Dog do this, this bad thing happens.” Dogs do understand cause and effect at that level very well. If you’re very very very angry with your dog, go take a walk yourself until you calm down.

    Crates should never be used for correction or punishment. If you put your dog in its crate because you need a break (totally cool), make sure the dog thinks it’s being good by going into the crate.
  4. Two dogs are easier than one. Dogs are pack animals and they need company.
  5. Housebreaking is not difficult. It’s more difficult for some breeds than others, but I’ve usually been able to housebreak a dog in a day just by consistently taking it outside several times. I’ve taught most of my dogs to pee on command. Pooping is really up to them, though. If you have a multiple dog household, they will teach each other where to go and they will often go as a pack. When I had five dogs, it was hilarious to take them out on a rainy night to pee. They would form a circle, each dog facing outward, and pee in unison. (Truffle, Molly, Kelly, Lupo and Ariel)
  6. Crate training is good. Using a crate is not putting your dog in prison. It’s giving them a den of their own in which they feel safe. Crates are also VERY useful for housebreaking because most dogs (past the early puppy stage where anything can happen) will not poop or pee in their den.
  7. Get your dog from a shelter or foster. The ONLY bad experience I had with a dog I owned was with a yellow lab I bought at pet store. Daisy — known as Big Puppy — was overbred. When she was two years old, she killed Cheyennie T. Wolf who had, until that horrible nightmarish moment, had been Big Puppy’s mother. Big Puppy knocked out Cheyennie’s canine teeth and then ripped open her neck. The emergency vet wasn’t able to save my husky. A week or so later, Big Puppy went for Lily T. Wolf in the same way.

    One of the saddest days in my life was the day I had to take my beautiful dog to the vet to be put to sleep because she was a murderous bitch, literally. The vet and I both cried as we killed that beautiful young murderous creature, then the vet asked where I got my dog. I told him and he said, “I see it a lot in purebred dogs. Her father could have been her brother and her mother could have been her sister. We never know. I wish they’d shut down pet stores. It’s the only way to stop puppy mills.” He was ferocious, passionate on this point. As it happens, the pet store where I got Big Puppy was shut down the next year.
  8. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to train a dog. It mostly takes patience, consistency, frequency and a sense of humor. It helps a lot if you’re willing to develop a friendship with your dog, get to know it and don’t feel you need to dominate it into cowering submission. Dogs and humans have worked together for eons in a very successful trans-species partnership. Your dog knows this as well as you do.

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21 thoughts on “Training Dogs

  1. I used to be an acceptable if not great trainer. Now, I’m not. I’m too slow, too easily knocked over. But I am good at rewarding good behavior and scolding bad and I have a crate that is every dog’s den. It works out for me, but it doesn’t make them good in other venues. That’s the big price you pay for dogs that are trained for you, but not REALLY trained.

  2. Love this post, Martha, especially as that’s what we’re currently doing. Loki has come a long way in 1 1/2 months. He stays, sits, lays, plays dead, comes and heels. He learned in a day to ring a set of bells beside the door when he wants to go outside. He’s got an incredible personality and beautiful to boot. People stop and stare. It’s not just his beauty, it’s his incredible insatiable personality. And he’s funny. He has a great sense of humour. We learned from a man whose raised nothing but German Shepherds that they cannot under any circumstances have tennis balls. It destroys their teeth. You guessed it, that was entertainment number one for Loki. He’s currently going through withdrawl. We bought several other toys and within a day he’d chewed them to bits. He’s also sneaky, lol. He knows he’s not supposed to but does and races with said object to his bed. He’s a constant delight and a wonderful companion. I never knew how much a pup could add to your life, but they most certainly do.

    • Dogs are the best. 🙂

      I had a golden retriever who loved tennis balls more than anything. I bought her a fancy floating ocean going toy for when we went to the beach. She played with it but when she saw a man lift up a tennis ball for HIS dog she ran to him, dropped the fancy toy at his feet, jumped up and took the tennis ball. He ended up about $10 ahead on that one.

      The best toy I’ve found for Bear is this one.

      https://barkshop.com/items/lady-liberty-ball-l

      It’s the only real toy she gets any more. I don’t mind her shredding all the toys I buy her, but they’re $$$. She also loves shredding cardboard boxes and one of her favorite toys is the plastic box salad comes in. She takes it outside, races around with it, pounces on it, kills it, crackles it and buries it.

  3. All good suggestions!

    All my are in training from the first day they come home from the rescue. It doesn’t take long at all for them to learn to wait until I’m not there to misbehave.

  4. At my dog club, the training is positive reinforcement methods only. There are not many spitz dogs at the club. 🙂 Lucky Makea is so hairy because no-one knows she has a citronella bark collar on. I did try their method for three years without success.

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