Life with a dog is great. Life with a well-trained dog? Well, that’s even better. Showing off cool new tricks is one thing, but having a dog obey your commands in life-threatening situations is the most important reason to train.
And let’s face it—it’s much less stressful when you know your dog will listen to you, which makes for a better relationship.
We consulted professional trainer and founder of Pawtopia in San Diego, Colleen Demling, for all things dog training. From teaching the basics to the best methods of training to the true cost of lessons, we’ve got you covered.
Stay, Come, Leave It
The commands stay, come, and leave it—or any variation thereof like here, drop it, etc.—are the most important commands for your dog to not only learn, but to master.
“If you teach your dog nothing else, teach those three commands because in most crisis situations, those three can get you out of it,” Demling says. “If your dog runs out the front door without permission or sees a dead bird on the street—these are situations that directly address your dog’s welfare, and your dog needs to obey these commands.”
Start by teaching your dog the basic level of these commands in the comfort of his own home. Repetition and practice are key.
“It’s like learning a new sport,” Demling explains. “You don’t go to a tennis class and swing once—you swing again and again. Repetition is how we all learn.”
Once your dog has the command down in the home, it’s time to move to more challenging situations, like the dog park or the pet store.
“If we ask them to sit two or three times at home where it’s quiet, and then we go to the do park and they don’t listen, it’s not because they don’t want to,” Demling explains. “It’s because they don’t have the skill set.”
Trainer’s Tip: Practice commands until your dog can successfully accomplish the command ten times in a row. For example, ten sits in a row at the pet store or dog park is the consistency you’re aiming for.
How do dogs learn best? The answer is—it depends on the dog.
“Find your dog’s motivation,” Demling suggests. “This will entice him to learn. Remember not all dogs are food motivated. Some are play motivated, some are attention motivated, and some just want a good belly scratch when they are paying attention and doing what you want them to do.”
With all sorts of methods preached as gospel by various trainers, how do you know which one to follow? Find the methodology that works for you, and stick with it.
“The best methodology is the one the owner is passionate about,” Demling says. “You want the fastest and most efficient method for you. Find a trainer that will be flexible with your chosen method to help you hit your end goal in the most efficient manner.”
Trainer’s Tip: Choose your trainer wisely. There is no official governing body regulating who can say they are a professional dog trainer. Look for important certifications from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCDPT), the only independent organization that certifies dog trainers.
Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks
While you may think your dog is set in his ways, any dog can be taught new commands or behaviors, regardless of age.
“Old dogs can learn new tricks just like older people can learn new skill sets,” Demling adds. “It’s harder on the owner—it’s changing the habits with the owner and getting the practice in place so the dog can learn. The difficult part is not only breaking down old habits, but establishing new ones.”
The biggest problem for owners set in their ways is communication—or miscommunication!
“We keep trying to make the connection [to teach the command] one way and the dog really needs another way,” Demling explains.
Maybe it’s ignoring your dog for 20 minutes so they really want your attention, and then running through a couple commands before giving them a belly rub. Or perhaps using your dog’s meal time as a treat for executing commands.
“It’s shifting the way that we want to teach to the way the dog needs to be taught,” Demling says.
Trainer’s Tip: Praise the success in the moment. For example, when the doorbell rings, if the dog hesitates to bark three seconds, praise in that moment before he barks instead of waiting to correct the bark.
Healing the Pain
It’s a sad reality that some sweet, innocent dogs will suffer abuse in their lifetime. But you can turn their life around in more ways than one.
Rescuing an abused animal and giving them a second chance at life is wonderful. But helping them adjust and heal emotionally will turn them into a new dog.
“Normally with consistency and kindness, dogs can learn to trust much faster than people do,” Demling believes. “It’s addressing the problem and not sweeping it under the rug.”
If your dog shies away from strangers or from being pet, if he cowers in the corner or behind your legs out of fear, if he hides under the bed or whines when you are away—you should seek help. The amount of help needed will vary.
“It does depend on the level of abuse the dog suffered,” Demling says. “But set up a plan and deal with the issues.”
Trainer’s Tip: Does your dog shy away from men or strangers? Have a friend come to the house, walk inside and ignore the dog while dropping a cookie on the floor. Now a stranger is associated with dropping cookies instead of trying to approach the dog, which may have been bad for the dog in the past.
Price Tag of Safety and Security
A lot of pet parents shy away from professional training because they think it’s too expensive or not worth the cost.
“Consider the return on investment,” Demling suggests.”Put a dollar value on the cost of your time if you do training efficiently versus inefficiently, the cost of your frustration when you come home and something is destroyed, or even the cost of embarrassment when your dog misbehaves.”
Again, make sure you find a trainer with the proper qualifications to ensure you are getting your money’s worth. But also put the cost of a problem dog into perspective with these scenarios:
- Your dog sneaks out the open front door, runs into the street and gets hit by a car—this results in emotional devastation and a potential $2000 vet bill.
- Gashes from a dog fight at the park—$500+ vet bill.
- Dog eats something poisonous in the trash or on the street—$1000+ vet bill.
- Dog jumps up on grandma and knocks her over, causing injuries—medical bills or more.
“We normally spend $2-3 a day on coffee. Think about spending that money over a few months and that’s good for the rest of your dog’s life,” Demling explains. “It’s a priceless investment.”
Trainer’s Tip: If you notice behavioral problems with your dog early on, it’s best not to wait. Get a trainer on board early, when it should only take one or two sessions to fix the problem, rather than allowing it to become a bigger emotional issue.
The Bottom Line
Having a well-trained dog leads to a better relationship between pet parent and furry friend.
“If you have a dog that is not well behaved, that relationship can become strained with frustration, which will become a barrier to a deeper bond with your pet,” Demling says.
Taking the time to properly train your dog—and maybe spending a little money—could help ensure he has a happy, healthy life.
Dog parks are supposed to be fun — but often they’re not. Here’s what dog owners can do to fix that problem.
By: Jaymi Heimbuch
Dog parks. They’re a play heaven for our furry friends, right? Well, not really. Dog parks are one of those places that seem like a brilliant idea — and would be, if we all knew how to behave. But we don’t.
As many a trainer has told me, you can potentially ruin your dog by taking her to dog parks. A single situation gone wrong can escalate into an attack or fight, which can cause life-long reactivity or fear aggression in your dog. I’ve even talked to people whose dogs have had serious injuries (and one lost a leg) because what seemed like play escalated into an attack — something that probably could have been avoided if everyone involved had been reading the body language of the dog and paying attention to some simple rules of behavior. The bummer reality is that dog parks are not the playground most people think they are. But they can be. Here are the most common things people do wrong (so you can avoid these mistakes), and five ways you can make dog parks a safe and fun environment for all involved.
First, let’s look at what many dog owners do wrong. (And when you’ve read these, be sure to read on for 10 more things humans shouldn’t do at the dog park, plus 5 things that will help your outing go more smoothly!)
1. Not picking up after a dog.
Let’s start with something simple like sanitation. First, it’s simply good manners to scoop up after your dog does her business. It’s gross to walk into a park that has poo everywhere and worse, it’s really bad for your dog. There are a lot of diseases and parasites living in dog waste that other dogs can contract when they touch, roll in, or eat it. Unpleasant on all counts. So let’s avoid the spread of disease and follow this simple rule of etiquette. You also earn bonus points for bringing extra poop bags for other owners.
2. Not exercising a dog before taking her into a park.
This might sound counterintuitive. I mean, we go to dog parks to exercise our dogs, right? Wrong. Dog parks are a supplement to a dog’s daily activity, not the soul source of exercise or socialization. A dog that has been inside or alone for hours has pent-up energy, and bringing her into an extremely stimulating environment such as a park with other dogs is like holding a match really close to a stick of dynamite and hoping the fuse doesn’t catch fire. Your dog might mean well but be overly exuberant with a dog that doesn’t appreciate it (resulting in a fight). Or, your dog might mean well but be so excited about running around that other dogs start to chase her and she suddenly turns into the prey object for other dogs (resulting in a fight). See where I’m going with this? Well-behaved dogs are exercised dogs. So get those zoomies out of your dog before you bring her into a park situation.
3. Bringing dogs with rude greeting skills.
We’ve all experienced it: meeting a person who stands way too close when we don’t even know them. Meeting someone who is really loud and tells obnoxious jokes within the first 30 seconds of an introduction. Meeting someone who shakes your hand for too long until it’s kind of creepy and awkward. We glare at them, chalk them up to being rude, and count the seconds until we can escape.
It’s like this for dogs too. Introductions are important and make a difference in how dogs will get along. Allowing your dog to go charging up to a dog that has just entered the park is rude. The new dog is possibly on edge, examining its environment and level of safety, so your dog running full speed to that new dog could be asking for an instant fight. Allowing your dog to mount another dog in a dominance display is also rude. Allowing your dog to continue sniffing another dog that is clearly uncomfortable with being sniffed is, again, rude. It’s up to us humans to help dogs make polite introductions to each other. Knowing what’s polite in the dog world and what isn’t, and knowing how to help your dog be a polite pooch is essential to having positive experiences at a dog park.