Dog’s Eye View: What is wild dog doing here?
We have just completed our puppy classes and our family dog classes for the fall semester at Colorado Northwest Community College. It makes me very happy to know that these special people with their family dogs have deepened their understanding of each other.
Somewhere toward the middle of each session, someone will acknowledge that we aren’t training the dogs as much as we are training the people. That’s quite a revelation that all of us experience during the budding relationship with a new dog. We teach the people how to train their dogs and often comment that, really, your dog can’t do this without you.
I like to think about when I first started learning how to drive a car. I had to look at the dashboard to see where the key went in, how to turn on the lights, how to roll down the window. Every day, I went through this routine, adding new elements to my learning. Put in the clutch, turn the key, make sure the car is in neutral and put on the parking break. Through time, I didn’t have to think about it, I just did it. It’s the way we learn most every new skill.
Then, why is it that it takes so long to realize that we need to practice our dog trainer skills? We certainly don’t let the car drive itself (though that’s changing). So why is it that we expect the dog to learn how to read our human language and assume all responsibility for understanding our communication when we don’t practice learning how to train them? We constantly change communication and expectations with each passing season. We can’t depend on future behavior if we aren’t participating in the program every day. If we take the time to practice our training on a regular basis, it becomes more automatic over time. It becomes a part of how we live every day.
Some might argue they don’t have that much time, but what were they thinking when they decided to get a dog? Left to figure out things on his own, your dog will become increasingly frustrated at the lack of communication or that the only communication is in the form of yelling or reprimands for learning without leadership. It’s not a nice thing to do to any dog.
We tell our students throughout the class that our main purpose is to teach them the concepts and help them learn the techniques we successfully use with our own awesome dogs. Training is for life. If you don’t learn the language, you will always have a communication barrier. Don’t put the learning responsibility solely on your dog. It takes time and lots of successful repetitions to make training automatic and understand the communication they are sending back to us.
As the fall weather drives all of us inside more, we need to be prepared to spend more time interacting with our canine buddies. It’s a great time to rebuild communication through short training sessions every day. Have fun training with your dog rather than constantly interrupting frustrating bad behavior with reprimands and isolation. Bring them inside to be a part of your family. Teaching tricks and impulse control behaviors make living together more pleasant. They are our companion dogs for a reason.
“When the Man waked up he said, ‘What is Wild Dog doing here?’ And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.’”
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience. She has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, as well as Certified Nose Work Instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training, LLC, here in Northwest Colorado.
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