We connect with a trainer who understands how animals learn; emphasizes modern, positive-reinforcement– based training methods; and is involved in continuing education. A good trainer focuses on teaching the dog what you want her to do and rewarding desirable behaviors rather than catching the dog doing something wrong and punishing bad behaviors. A growing body of literature suggests that punishment- or dominance-based training methods do more harm than good by creating fear and anxiety in some dogs .* Hea lthy relat ionships — whether between two people or between a person and dog — are built on fairness and respect, not fear.
Having realistic expectations for your dog at each stage of her life and training is important to forming and maintaining a healthy bond. Even if you’ve already made a good deal of progress toward your goals, be mindful of the pitfalls. The road to relationship-building is littered with unrealistic expectations. Following are some of the more common.
One training class will teach your dog everything she needs to know. A single class is just a warm-up, one that needs to be followed with more classes or in-home training. Dog training builds upon previously learned skills; expectations are gradually raised as the dog becomes increasingly successful at performing the trainer’s requests. Training should be fun for everyone (dog and human). If you’re asking your dog to do something and she’s unable to follow through, you may simply be asking too much of her too soon — she’s not ready for that level, she may be stressed or she may be having a bad day. We humans have bad days, and nothing says our dogs can’t have bad days, too. If this happens, take a break and reassess the training plan. Never take it out on the dog.
Once your dog learns a behavior, you never need to reinforce it. I once met a couple walking their rambunctious young Labrador in the woods and asked if they did any training with their “wild child.” The man replied, “Yes, we took her to puppy class, but she forgot everything that she learned.” Just like your own workout program, when it comes to dog training, “use it or lose it” prevails. Don’t blame the dog if she can’t remember something you taught her last year but haven’t practiced since then. u
At home with no distractions, your dog comes when called, so she’ll do the same thing at the dog park, even if she’s engaged in a game of chase with her best dog friend. No, she won’t. This simple reality often throws people. I hear things like “Peaches is usually so good about coming, except when she’s at the dog park or there are other dogs around. Then, she doesn’t seem to care.” Training Peaches to come to you (or to reliably perform other behaviors) when there is nothing else interesting nearby is one thing; training her to come when she’s running full-out at the dog park is almost akin to teaching another behavior entirely. You need to train and re-train in each environment in which you expect your dog to perform the behavior.
In puppy class, I start teaching “come” away from distractions. I let the pups play with one another, then after a minute or two, I put a tasty treat right in front of the dog’s nose and say the dog’s name, followed by the command (“Sasha, come!”) in a happy, upbeat voice while luring the dog a few feet away from her playmate. She gets the treat, and then I release her with an “okay,” which means she can go back and play some more. It’s a proverbial win-win.
I had an occasion to put this training to use a couple of years ago when my one-year-old Doberman, Jimmy, was visiting a dog park near my house. Two dogs had started fighting, which quickly drew the attention of other dogs nearby. What started out as a fight between two quickly evolved into a fight among many. Nervous, I looked for Jimmy and noticed that he was gearing up to join the fray. My heart pounding in my throat, I tried hard to keep my voice happy as I called “Jimmy, come!” To my surprise, he turned away from the melee and ran full-speed toward me. Phew! That was close!