What do we mean by training?

I often find that people think that training is all about controlling a dog or other animal. I have had people tell me that their dog doesn’t need training because he is wonderful the way he is. If you use traditional, correction or dominance-based methods, this makes sense. Who wants to do unpleasant things to someone you love if you don’t have to.

However, with positive training it isn’t about command and control, it is simply teaching your dog how you expect him to behave around people and maybe how to do tricks or sports or follow the rules of games like retrieve or tug-of-war so that everyone has fun. That’s really what training is, it is teaching.

We do this all the time with children. Children don’t come knowing how to say “please” and “thank you”. We have to teach them that this is part of polite behavior. It is the same as expecting our dog to sit for a greeting or wait at the door instead of dashing out into the street. If you throw a soccer ball onto a field with a bunch of kids and tell them to just do what they want I can guarantee that only a few of the kids will be having a good time. How much better would it be if we teach them the rules of the game? Then ALL the kids can play and everyone has fun. This is training. Just think how much more fun you and your dog will have playing together if there are rules that everyone understands.

Another common reason I hear for not training is that there just isn’t time. Everyone is busy these days and it is hard to carve out 30 minutes or an hour for a training session. The good news is that it isn’t necessary to do that. Effective training can take place 30 seconds at a time. Just wait for you dog to have 4 paws on the floor before petting him and he quickly learns that the way to get your attention is to stay down. Even more targeted training sessions shouldn’t last for more than 5 minutes for most dogs. Several short training sessions several times a day are far more effective than one long session.

We tend to forget is that learning is ALWAYS taking place. We learn from our dogs and they learn from us all the time. We can’t stop it from happening even if we wanted to.  You pick up the leash and your dog learns that means a walk is going to happen. Your dog whines by the door and you know he needs to go outside to toilet. I think it is much better to be proactive and teach what we want our dogs to do rather than Have them teach themselves  things we would rather they didn’t know… like that grabbing the TV remote is a good way to get a game of chase started.

Training should be a game. We like playing games whether it is figuring out a puzzle or playing soccer. The same is true for dogs. The best thing about positive training is that it is fun. Learning new things is fun for our dogs, but it is also fun for us because we see how eager our dogs are to participate in the process.

It’s like an old trainer once said, “Every time you and your dog are together training is taking place. It is your choice if you want to be the trainer or the trainee….”

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