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Basic Dog Training
November 12, 2020
Being a dog trainer is one of those jobs where everyone has a question to ask or a comment to make. Many professional dog trainers quickly learn to dodge the question if they don’t want to be inundated with queries and stories from surrounding strangers at the supermarket.
When I’m not in a rush, I enjoy answering many of the questions that a dog trainer receives. Here are the top 5 questions a dog trainer receives and that I’m asked most frequently as a dog trainer. Of course, this is a very short overview of the training plan you’ll need for each question. My company, Journey Dog Training, offers online training over phone or video chat and can help with any of these questions.
Barking is pretty normal for dogs – especially when they’re upset or scared about something. So the general key for helping your dog to stop barking is to help her feel better about the oncoming object or sound – called a trigger. The basic idea is to give your dog treats when you see or hear the trigger. If your dog is too upset to eat or is already barking, you’re too close! Find a way to practice exposing your dog to the trigger in a more dialed-down way. Punishing your dog for barking will often make the emotional response worse. It may stop the barking, but that stress is likely to leak out in other areas for your dog’s behavior. Fix the root problem instead.
This question is actually very similar to #1. Identify what your dog is afraid of and figure out a way to do simple setups where your dog is exposed to that thing at a very low dose. If your dog is scared of men, perhaps try watching men walk past while you and your pup sit on a park bench across the parking lot. Every time a man walks past, give your dog a treat. After about 5-10 minutes of practice, take a break. If your dog won’t eat treats or seems really scared, you’re too close to the trigger! Use pet gates or other barriers to help give your dog space from guests, other pets, or other things that might frighten him in your home.
Recall can be a lifesaving skill for dogs – they really need to be able to come when you call them. I teach recall by putting a dog on a long line and a back-clip harness. Then we head to a relatively boring, safe area like a local soccer stadium or baseball diamond. Next, I bring some extra-tasty treats (I recommend roast chicken or hot dogs) and practice walking around the area, calling your dog to you. If your dog is a major flight risk, hold onto the long leash for safety. Once she’s looking stellar in this easy environment, start adding in slight distractions like friends, family, toys, or even other dogs. When your dog is a rockstar at this level, start trying in new areas. Gradually add in distractions and increase space available to your dog.
Remember that even if your dog is generally good off-leash, you can always use extra safety measures. I use a bear bell. I also use a Garmin GPS Collar. When we’re in extra-tough situations (like when we come upon a herd of elk or a prairie dog town), even my best-behaved dog just goes on leash to reduce risk.
Teaching your dog to chill out at the park for a picnic, the brewery for a quick drink, or the coffee shop for a catch-up session with friends isn’t easy. Start out teaching your dog to relax somewhere easy – home. I use the Karen Overall Relaxation Protocol with many of my clients to help with this goal. Once the dog is successful at home, we start practicing in other environments. Pick somewhere a bit harder than home, but not too challenging. If/when your dog becomes overwhelmed go home. I often start with just going to a patio or park for 5 minutes, then leaving again. Don’t expect your dog to be able to go from 15 minutes of relaxation in your kitchen to 2 hours at the outdoor pub!
Be sure to have dog training as your primary goal when you go out! Many clients fail when they start trying to meet up with friends because their dog isn’t ready. Their dog learns bad habits because the owners aren’t able to socialize with friends and train their dogs at the same time!
One of the tough things about living with dogs is that we often forget that they’re predators! Focus on what you want your dog to do here. Look away from the squirrel, look back to you, and calmly move in the direction you’re all going. If your dog can’t execute that skill around a ball, piece of kibble, other dog, or stranger, I’ve got news for you: he won’t be able to do it around a squirrel. Practice “leave it” with less-exciting things first and build up the skill like a muscle. Once your dog is good at this with a variety of objects, start upping the ante. Have your dog ignore other dogs playing (use a dog park so there’s a fence between you and the other dogs) or a friend bouncing a ball.
Once your dog is skilled with those temptations, you can start practicing with prey items like squirrels. This is going to be more challenging with some dogs than others. A dog that’s bred for generations to hunt is likely to be harder to train for this skill than a dog who’s been bred for generations to sit on laps or even herd livestock.
Find more dog training tips like these top 5 questions a dog trainer receives here.