Why should you train your dog?

Like most trainers who find working with dogs ridiculously rewarding, I fit in a course with one of my own dogs as often as I can. The most recent adventure has been Bronze Level Scentwork with the fabulous Jordan Eley of Hounds and Hooves, based at Whitcombe near Dorchester. Not only do I love watching the sheer passion Lyric has for searching, I am learning so much about canine body language and engagement.

I’ve taken almost every dog I’ve ever owned to some sort of class and sought 1:2:1 support at times as well….becoming a trainer myself hasn’t made any difference to this, I want to carry on teaching and learning whenever possible.

So – why is this so important to me? Surely as a trainer and an experienced dog owner, I can train my own dogs? Didn’t people just get a dog and get on with it years ago, without all this need for training classes and 1:2:1s?

Well, probably, yes, to both! My grandparents, uncle and aunt always had dogs – which is probably where my love of all things canine stemmed from – and I’m pretty sure they never attended a class or sought the help of a trainer, if indeed such a thing existed back then.

Their dogs, often rescues, were all generally well-behaved and much-loved, fully involved in the life of the farm and the household. Although I imagine my grandpa and uncle would have given modern training methods short shrift, I never saw them being harsh or unkind to their dogs and they were universally adored by all canine members of the family.

Dogs have been developed over the years by selective breeding, many to carry out a particular job – herding, catching rodents, finding and retrieving game, for example – and my grandparents’ dogs frequently accompanied a member of the family out and about on the farm, hunting or just galloping around the fields. Yet how many of our pets today spend most of their time in a house, perhaps on their own while families work, with a short walk or two the only highlight of the day? And how many are blamed for unacceptable behaviour such as jumping up, pulling on the lead, refusing to come when called or chewing the skirting board?

If we try and put ourselves in the place of the family pet, perhaps we can start to see just how boring and frustrating life can be for a dog. There is a lot of literature around about walks not being as vital as previously thought, but one of the reasons I personally ensure that my dogs get to go out two or three times a day if possible is just this: imagine being stuck inside the same four walls day in day out! In fact, it’s quite easy for lots of us to imagine after 2020 and the Covid 19 lockdown – I don’t know about you, but the daily dog walk was an absolute lifesaver for me as I at least got to see somewhere else once a day.

So – walking being so important – one of the first reasons for training is to enable the walks to be enjoyable for you as well as the dog. Having your shoulder dislocated on a daily basis isn’t the most fun, so training your pup to walk nicely is a must. It’s also much better for their health; having had an Irish Setter who determinedly pulled on the lead for his whole life (quick disclaimer – I wasn’t a trainer then!) and then developed some pretty awful health conditions which were likely related to the regular pressure on his throat has made me very conscious of the need for this.

Loose-lead walking comes under general life skills in my opinion – and training your pup in these basic manners is vital if everyone is going to get along in the home and outside. Teaching your puppy how you would like them to behave can help avoid behavioural issues arising as he gets older and keep everyone safe, as the dog learns how to manage social situations with other people and dogs.

If you’re worried that training courses will be competition obedience standard and your pup will show you up – don’t be! Classes today are much more likely to be about general manners and trainers will expect lots of the pups to need some help with this. If the thought of harsh corrections puts you off, look carefully at the ethos of the trainer you’re considering – many of us use positive science-based methods and have no time for outdated dominance, alpha hierarchies, pack leader and punishment theories.

Training should also be fun, for both you and the dog. Let’s face it, we all learn more, and more quickly, if we’re enjoying what we’re doing. Think about the joy that small children find in learning something new – it’s the same for dogs! The mental enrichment involved makes their lives so much more fulfilling and enjoyable – and you know that you’re meeting their needs beyond the daily dog walk. Working with your pup to perfect a new trick also helps to build an ever-growing relationship between you as you become not only the human who dishes up dinner but also the human who makes fun happen and provides exciting treats!

Just watch a spaniel searching out treats in grass or finding and bringing you a ball to see how happy it makes them!

Training can help to replace that job that your dog was bred to do and now doesn’t have any opportunity to engage in. He’s going to burn off mental energy as well as physical, and avert boredom. It doesn’t have to be hugely time-consuming either – five minutes once or twice a day is better than an hour a week. It can be something simple that she has already mastered or a first attempt at a new trick; just remember to finish on a positive note – so if a new challenge is proving harder than you expected, ask for a couple of repetitions of an easy behaviour and end the session with success.

Practise loose lead walking and recall in the house and garden – it’s so much easier for your dog without the distractions of an outing and the more she gets it right, the more likely she is to get it right when you’re out. Get your visitors involved in your polite greeting training, preparing before they arrive and giving them a heads-up about how to react so that they don’t accidentally undo all your good work. Fit some puppy-press-ups in while you wait for the kettle to boil, rehearse spin or middle if you’re expecting a phone call. You might be surprised by how much fun you and your dog have!

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