Sextiped Valley column: The education of a good dog
Say “dog training,” and most folks picture a half dozen pups on leashes circling a trainer, who is teaching the humans on the other end of the leash how to get them to sit or heel. A bit chaotic, to say the least — and for all participants. Handlers have to concentrate on the instructor while keeping their pup from barking or trying to play with the dog next to him.
Dogs are overwhelmed by an exciting, slightly scary milieu. The teacher somehow has to turn this into a conducive learning environment for both species. As this has been the typical obedience training scenario for decades, it may be why the average class attrition rate is approximately 30 percent. That’s a lot of partially trained dogs, disappointed humans and frustrated dog trainers. It also contributes to the continually shrinking welcome for dogs in public places.
At last, a new format that elegantly solves these problems by changing the way training is delivered is catching on. It’s called “day training” and it is simply the radical notion that dog trainers should train dogs. They do this during the day in several sessions per week, either in the dog’s home or in locations selected for their relevance to the training objectives. The owner does not participate — in fact, doesn’t even have to be there.
The training goals, scheduling and realistic written guarantee of achievement are agreed upon. At specified intervals during and after the training, the trainer demonstrates what the dog has learned and instructs the owner in how to maintain the new behavior.
This format captures the advantage of the old “board and train” approach, where the dog goes to a kennel for several weeks and returns home “trained,” which is that the professional does the training. But because the dog remains at home, where the elements that undermine good habits are present, the trainer can identify and address them. This is especially important when the objective of training is eliminating nuisance behaviors, like barking or jumping on people, which usually also require some management of the environment where they occur.
This training innovation allows dogs to learn quickly, joyfully and without confusion, and the humans to immediately enjoy better-behaved pets, without having to become dog trainers. In the education of a canine family member, day training follows puppy kindergarten and provides the foundation for any and all learning options throughout his life.
If you get your puppy at 8 to 10 weeks, a well-designed program of puppy day kindergarten should come first, to prepare him to soak up training eagerly, efficiently and fast. Then, at 4 months of age, he’ll be ready to amaze you with his brilliance in day training.
But if you adopt an adolescent or adult who didn’t get a great start, day training is an excellent place to begin. The most common effect of early neglect is a wariness about trying new things. Confused about what’s expected of him, the dog worries about making the humans mad, but doesn’t know how to avoid it. The one-on-one relationship with a skilled trainer jump-starts his confidence with a series of easy successes, properly rewarded, so he comes to really enjoy learning.
Bad habits are corrected gently and effectively, as his competence grows. The more deprivation or abuse in a dog’s history, the more critical the skill and tact of the trainer is be to successfully overcoming their damaging effects. Elements of socialization he missed can be carefully incorporated into the day training schedule, and the trainer can show the family how to build upon gains and avoid setbacks.
Selecting a kind and effective trainer is key to everything. Get recommendations from people you trust, and absolutely insist on seeing the trainer in action with some dogs before engaging her or him. Do have a heart to heart discussion of their training methods and philosophy. There is no place in good training for harsh corrections, choke or shock collars, pain or fear. You should see an immediate increase in your dog’s happiness and zest for life after the first session. Any dampening of that is a huge red flag which should be addressed right away.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.