Throughout my over two decades of training professional and pet dogs, I have come across many diverse people with very diverse ideas on what dog training should be and ultimately can be! With the proliferation of information via the internet, a LOT of information is out there which very often muddies the waters. It is because of this information overload that many handlers/trainers/owners don’t even know where to begin when it comes to how to train a dog, let alone what to realistically expect from their four-legged friend. This is where I have really tried to distinguish myself in the dog training world.
There are two things that I want from a trained dog, whether it be mine or a client’s dog. That’s it, only two things: Reliability and Enthusiasm. Period. Nothing fancy, but if you truly have both, you have done a lot of work!
Reliability is 90% plus accuracy in command regardless of my Four Variables of Proofing: Distance, Duration, Distraction and Location. Down is Down, Come is Come, no matter what. No excuses for anything other than success. It is this absolute and resolute mindset that can save a dog’s life. When training police and military dogs, the standard is in the high nineties because lives can be at stake, rights are to be upheld, and a mission is at hand. But, a little known secret: most police departments do not give their handlers more than a couple of hours a week to work their dogs! Almost all of my clients have more time to train than their police counterparts! BUT, many people with reliable dogs have dogs that look like robots, unless they have…
…Enthusiasm! Enthusiasm is simply enjoying the work at hand. Perhaps work has been made into a game for your dog so it does not realize that it is working. Perhaps you brought an awesome reward into the equation that your dog loves and will do anything for. However your dog is motivated, that is your currency to enthusiastic behavior. Use it well!
Now, notice the order in which I suggest. Reliability THEN enthusiasm. Unlike many “modern” trainers, I do not give the dog a lot of options on certain commands (Come, Sit or Down, and Target) as I do not want the dog to know anything but success. Certainly, self discovery is one of the best teachers, but some commands can be life saving behaviors, and I do not want the dog to think about “what’s in it for them”. Dog running for the street? See a snake? No time to motivate. We want a truly conditioned response, no questions asked. The other behaviors I can take my time with and are the “relationship builders”, but the Big Three…they need to be as close to absolute as possible.
Simple example: When I train the recall (Come), I NEVER call the dog initially without a long line attached. The dog HAS to come every time that I call it, whether it decided to or I guided it. Once the dog gets there, the reward comes out, but I do not lure the dog with a reward as it is likely only working for the reward. I need it come because I said so, and oh by the way, here is your reward, rather than “please come for this tasty treat”. May seem like a simple variance in training, but it is crucial in developing reliable behavior.
The main take away from this post is that we need to strive for two things in training…reliability and enthusiasm. Again, while simple, it is overlooked by the vast majority of pet trainers as the methodologies that are currently dominating our culture do NOT lend to reliable dogs, but focus solely on bribery and shallow relationships. Which sounds like a great topic for the next article.
For a more detailed protocol on developing reliability and enthusiasm in dog training and puppy training, contact a Total Dog! Team member at TotalDog.com!