Scott Rall: Fall is approaching, get the dogs ready
Training dogs is a pastime that I have thoroughly enjoyed for about the last 15 years.
The reasons I cite for this enjoyment are too numerous to list, but the challenge of training a dog to do what few others can do is probably the most satisfying to me. The old saying that in order to train a dog the trainer has to be smarter than the dog is true, but it only takes a little time on your part to become smarter than the dog.
Many people will stop and watch from a distance when I am out working a dog. A few others, although rare, will actually get out of the car and after the session is over will come up to me and ask how I get a dog to do this or that certain thing.
When the human who wants to be a dog trainer understands the methods used to teach dogs certain skills, it becomes much clearer to them that once they know what methods to use almost anyone can train a dog. I fully believe that almost any dog owner has the skills or can acquire the skills to train their own dog to a very high level.
Most dog owners have or can learn the necessary skills to train their own dog, but what they lack are two very important requirements. And those are time and commitment.
When I start a dog on a formal obedience program it requires the commitment to work the dog once or twice every day for about four weeks. This does not normally take place until the dog is 7-9 months of age. The dog has to have reached a maturity level both physically and mentally to be able to handle this level in human/dog interaction, and the ability to retain what they have learned.
If you start a formal obedience program and work a dog for three days and then take three days off, when you resume you are for the most part starting all over. For every one day lapse in the program once you have started it, you will need to train for two days just to get back the point you were at before the lapse. Each day’s work builds upon the training efforts of the prior days. Consistency is the key and the ability to build continuously is very important.
I have said often that most obedience training for dogs is like a Scotch Post-It Note. You can write the word obedience on the note and stick it to your dog’s fur. Now your dog has obedience.
The problem with this type of obedience is that it takes very little to lose it. Another dog in the area or some other small distraction can easily knock this surface level of obedience into non-existence. Post-It Note obedience is when your dog will listen to you when there is nothing else it would rather do.
What you really want and need is for your dog’s obedience to be more like the dog is a sponge, and the obedience is a liquid that has been absorbed completely into the sponge. This is a deep-seated obedience and is not easily removed or lost to the smallest distraction. Always remember that a dog is not a piece of electronics that can be turned on and off with a switch. They are flesh and blood and even the best-trained dog can fail you at any time.
I never ever get so confident in my own training ability or the elevated skill level of my dogs that I would for even an instant disregard all common safety precautions that need to be heeded every minute of every day.
I don’t care how great my dogs are; I would never walk then on the shoulder of a busy road without a collar and leash. I am not willing to take that chance.
I have heard it said over and over from other dog owners that their dog is so well-trained that the dog doesn’t need a collar, only to find out six months later that the dog is dead from getting hit by a car. Owner arrogance results in many dead dogs.
Obedience is a matter of repetition and patience, and as the dog’s skill level increases so should the difficulty level of the training. Add more distractions and more difficult situations in order to create that sponge-absorbed obedience that you want and need as a dog owner. A pro trainer once told me and then repeated at least 100 times since, that if your dog never fails in training you’re not teaching it anything new, nor are you advancing its skill level.
New challenges need to be conquered and no dog bats 100 percent all the time. There is no greater complement that when I am told that my dogs listen better than any other dogs they have ever seen.
A 300-yard retrieve of a wounded duck is very cool and will impress your hunting buddies but in reality it is no more satisfying than watching your dogs sit totally still as commanded and not move even a muscle as another dog owner walks by only feet away with their dog virtually dragging them around and barking like a mad man trying to get over to where my dogs are sitting. Stellar field work and stellar obedience are totally equal and necessary in my world of dogs.
I often ask myself why any human would want to live in the same house as that of an out-of-control dog. The only difference between a well-mannered and obedient dog and the out-of-control kind is about 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening for about 6 weeks — and then a little obedience refresher for 10 minutes about once a month.
You can train your dog yourself regardless of breed or size if you can just spare the time.
In the real world, time is in short supply, and as long as this is the case there will be a thriving dog training business for professional dog trainers across the country. If you have a dog training question, just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be glad to try to help you out. And if for some reason I can’t I can recommend some professional help located in the general area.