I recently found myself in a room of close to 100 other dog trainers listening to Internationally renowned UK Dog Trainer Nando Brown (Rescue Dogs to Superstars) I was at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers NZ (apdtnz) Annual Conference. And this was a man that had my complete attention! His ideals and force free training methods resonated with all my teaching methods. You see, both my job and my dog training club require that I impart my wisdom to new dog owners… I have the power to help make young dogs lives better. For many years, I have been selling the positive reinforcement idea and this man in front of me confirmed that I was spreading the “right” word. Even more exciting was the fact that there were at least another 100 NZ dog trainers doing the same, making dogs lives FUN!
Surprisingly, people that I am teaching come with absolutely no connection with their dog… all too often they are looking for a quick fix, or a training aid that will correct/fix all that frustrates. I think we all know there is no such device! So, while all these people sign up for different reasons I find they are all needing to be shown the same thing. How to connect & have fun with their dog.
Week one of my classes, the majority turn up with dogs straining on the lead pulling their owners toward the fun. Some owners yank on the lead and speak to their dog roughly. Others will pick the dog up and struggle with the equivalent of a spastic crayfish but there recurring theme … the look of annoyance that everyone wears. I think back to when Edge was a wee man with no manners and can relate.
Unintentionally, we teach our dogs to pull within minutes of applying a lead, we expect them to understand what we are saying well before we even teach them our expectations, we raise our voice when we think the dog is being naughty and we ask these baby dogs not to do instinctual behaviours as they don’t fit with our lifestyle. Suddenly the cute puppy is no longer fun.
Now Edge was exceptionally cute as a pup and I was besotted with him, he had 2 speeds, fast or sleeping! He wanted to see & meet everything and keeping up with him was a full-time job but it was a job that I was willing to take. I wasn’t blind, I was well aware of the time he would need and the micro-managing required. He didn’t come with an owner’s manual but I had a plan. I had the benefit of experience & training. For Edge, training started at the airport when I picked him up. He was 9 weeks old, cute & fluffy, sporting these gorgeous almost human eyes that had already convinced the airport ladies that he needed to be out of his travel crate and being cuddled!
This beautiful little creature was travelled up from the depths of Dunedin to live in Mount Maunganui with 2 strange humans and one spoiled adult border collie that had until then had the sole attention of his humans. These humans also had some
very weird birdlike creatures called chickens… at this stage these chickens were bigger than him! How many distractions have you counted so far? How does one capture the attention of a brand-new puppy when he is processing all of this? When does one start? And how?
Although we are in awe of our new puppy, as soon as he starts to explore and well, live, we expect him to behave. We expect him to know what he can and can’t do. This is when I feel everyone needs some sort of manual or plan because in the first few days we spend a lot of time telling our pup’s everything they can’t do… Don’t chew that, don’t pee there, shush, off that, down, that is not your sock, SIT! come here, go away, where are you now?
Sound familiar? A new puppy is like a toddler that never sleeps! So is it any wonder that by the time these people get in front of me they are frazzled and frustrated. They have fallen into the habit of constantly growling at their dog. Some owners I have watched and been convinced that they hate what their cute puppy has turned into. This is where I have the opportunity to help them reconnect with their pup.
What I have to share with these people is quite simple… Be nice, ask for behaviours and reward what you desire. Stop saying NO! & AH-AH!
Start saying yes! & Good dog! Stop pulling on the lead, start talking to your dog. Offer yummy treats, yeah it may be considered bribery, but who cares if it achieves a response that you like. So often I am out with my boys and see people yelling at their dogs to come back … hands on hips, eyebrows knitted together and that growly voice of frustration. It takes all my effort to keep quiet and not interfere. But I know deep down that life will not improve for that pooch, instead it’ll go to the park less & less cos it’s too much effort for the owner. Here’s where that manual needs to say “When going to the park, take a long lead and a pocket full of chicken treats” Sounds simple BUT how many people do it?
Not trying to boast but Edge was 5 months old when he had a rock-solid recall – Yes, there were many pockets of chicken treats involved. In addition to this games of hide n seek, chase, tuggy games etc. Puppies like to play and if you are not going to play with them they will find that fun elsewhere. So, if you want to share your life with a puppy, be prepared to PLAY… a lot!
My classes are literally a bunch of games and fun. I teach people to gain simple behaviours by offering treats or a fun game of tug. They will come away from my class with a few new tricks up their sleeves but more importantly I hope the main message they go away with is a simple one… A happy engaged dog is a trainable dog. And if my classes have strengthened the bond between owner & pooch I am a happy dog trainer.