By Sarah Carlson
Loving, friendly, protective, playful – dogs inherently have many traits that make them great companions.
But obedient? That can take some work (and a lot of patience) to develop. Dogs want to learn and follow commands, but they need their humans to help make the process enjoyable for both parties.
It’s best for a dog to start basic obedience training after their last set of vaccinations, or by 16 weeks old, said Melissa Jones, owner of Christian Dog Training in Abilene. But don’t worry; if you didn’t start training early, or if you adopted a dog aged past the puppy stage, it’s not necessarily too late to teach an older dog new tricks.
“A middle-aged or older dog, more than 5 years old, is still trainable,” Jones said, “but is their owner?”
Pet parents can get just as set in their ways as their furry friends, so the training process goes both ways.
Here are some tips on how to approach training your doggo – and yourself:
Be consistent. Perhaps above everything, dogs need consistency when it comes to commands. It’s best to think in terms of the way they actually see the world – in black and white.
“A dog needs boundaries and to know there are expectations he has to meet,” Jones said.
You can’t try a command a few times and hope it sticks; their attention spans and memories are too short. You need to be consistent practicing the command during training sessions once or twice a day, for five to 15 minutes, several times a week. And always use the same word or phrasing for an action – “sit,” “stay,” “leave it,” “hurry up,” etc. If you switch things up, you’ll only confuse the dog (and frustrate yourself).
Be positive. Ask a dog owner if their pet can read their emotions, and they are likely to unequivocally say yes. But now there’s research to back that up, such as the study published in 2016 in the journal Biology Letters that documented dogs detecting positive and negative emotional states in people. They can read how you’re feeling and will react accordingly, so keeping your environment, and your attitude, positive is important while training your dog.
At Petco’s obedience training classes in Abilene, trainer Jacob Mills makes it a point to create a fun atmosphere for both human and canine clients. This helps the dogs socialize as well as feel comfortable and stay engaged.
“Never let anything become more interesting or excited than you are,” Mills said. “As pet parents, we have to stay more interesting so they will pay attention to us and learn more. That’s the same for all trainings, from potty training to therapy training.”
The positive reinforcement method is popular among trainers because it not only creates a better environment for you and your pet, it helps strengthen your bond and increase their willingness to learn, according to the American Kennel Club. It’s all about rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior.
“You must be highly motivating with food, play or praise,” Jones said. “Finding out what motivates your dog and the timing of that reward is key to good training.”
Be patient. We may all think our dogs are clever – and many are! – but they’re still dogs. We can’t reason with them the same way we at least try to reason with fellow humans. You may feel like giving up when your pet doesn’t come when you call, but don’t. It’s in their, and your, best interest to keep going until lessons are learned.
“Dogs are willing to learn and willing to work,” Mills said. “They want to do something you’re trying to teach them – if you’re teaching them correctly. Patience is important, but remember, the dog is also trying to be patient with you.”
Jones has seen the hard work pay off countless times. She’s certified in training service dogs for disabled veterans, and she remembers one group of new service dog owners who were hesitant and anxious about the process. After two weeks of training, Jones said, they seemed like different people.
“They were rolling around on the floor with their dogs, willingly learning everything they could about what that dog was going to do for them,” she said. “On the last day of training, one of the veterans walked up to us trainers, saluted us and with tears in his eyes said we’d changed his life forever.”
A Letter to My Hooman
Hooman! Hello. It’s me, your doggo.
I’m writing (don’t ask how) to tell you how proud I am. You’ve come such a long way since I rescued you! To think, not long ago you were just an average adult with strange beliefs about where I should sleep and how often I could take car rides. Now look at us! What a transformation.
I admit, I wasn’t expecting your stubbornness. You tried your hardest to resist my big eyes and my smile and my cuddles. (Why would you try to resist such things? That seems foolish.) You would say “Get off the couch!” with such conviction, like you thought you would stick with it, oh my goodness it was so cute. I wish I had video of it.
But you learned. You realize now it’s best that I am up on the couch with you, consoling you as you watch the video machine and its stories about throne games or other human silliness. You know now that I belong by your side, and that the hair I leave on the pillows is a sign of my affection and also is good for the décor.
You learned that when I roll over onto my back, you should stop what you’re doing and give me belly rubs. And then follow that up with ear scritches. Good hooman!
These days, you don’t even blink an eye when I bark at the doorbell, or a doorbell sound that is coming from the video machine, because you know the seriousness of the danger we all are in when the package deliverer is on our premises. Thank you for respecting my authority in these matters; your safety is my priority.
You clean up after me, which seems unnecessary because that mess on the dining room rug smells great to me, but if it makes you happy, I support it.
And most of the time, when you let me out in the back yard and then let me back in the house, you give me a treat. And you know that I’ll sit on the kitchen rug until I get one (not to brag, but I think I’m pretty helpful with my reminders). And so you give me a treat – sometimes even when I just walked outside and came right back in! Amazing. 12/10 I’m going to repeat this.
In short, thank you. Thank you for learning and growing and making room for me on the bed, too. You finally understand my actual role in your life, and I’m thrilled. I love you, hooman. You’ve been such a great companion to me. When you come home and are happy to see me, it fills me with joy. We make a good team.
Now, can I have a treat?