jamz12 asks: How can I train dogs?
Hi jamz12 –
Well, of course, I’ve never trained a dog. I have spent most of my lifetime training a human – and at this point I’ve got him feeding me, walking me, and scratching me at that place I really love right there, just on the left side of my tummy, where I can never quite scratch myself in quite the right…. Oooooooohhhhhhhh yeah, that’s it… Aaaaaaahhhhhh!
There are lots of experts out there, who know how to train difficult dogs, or train dogs to do amazing tricks. But usually, what people really want is to train their dogs to do three things: 1) be safe; 2) not hurt or bother other people; and 3) be easy to live with.
The first one, safety, is of course the most important. We need to know how to sit and stay when you’re aware of something dangerous we don’t know about. The best way to train this is patiently! It might take hundreds of tries, to get us to sit on our haunches, and keep paying attention to you without moving, till you tell us it’s okay to get up. By far the best way to do this is through treats. Telling us “no” when we get up might just confuse us – are you telling us you don’t like our walking up to you? But the more we learn that pleasure and joy await if we put our butts down when you say “sit,” keep them down when you say “stay” and not get up till you say “come,” the more we want to learn those things. We’re very happy to please you, but we’re especially trainable when we’re learning how to get what we want too!
The second, not hurting or bothering others, is probably the hardest. Dogs like me just love jumping up and licking new people in the face. And if you like it too, it can really be heartbreaking to teach us not to do it. But if you have to, the best way is a mixture of treats and (very mild) punishment. For example, if you have a friend coming over, you could have some treats in your hand, and a metal can with some rocks in it, and put a squirt-bottle out front with some water in it. Tell your dog to stay calm, and let her know you have some treats. She’ll want to do whatever you say. But if she jumps up to race to your friend, shake that can, and the noise will bother her. Maybe that’ll be enough to stop her from jumping. But if she still does jump up on your friend, they can squirt her in the face (again, ONLY use water! You don’t want to hurt your dog’s eyes!). Between those three, that should teach her to greet others more politely.
The third, calm around the house, usually involves chewing, especially when we’re puppies. The best answer to that I’ve ever found is to buy a whole bunch of chew-toys. Not two or three, more like ten or twenty! And have them scattered around the house. Then, whenever the puppy starts to bite on you, or chew on something he shouldn’t chew on, you immediately say “No!” and grab a toy, and stick it in his mouth. Once he bites down on the toy, you overwhelm him with compliments, petting, kisses, “Oh what a smart puppy you are, that’s so good!” What you’ll do is train him to, when he wants to chew on something, grab one of those toys instead of your leg or a shoe.
Now these are just a few ideas. You probably need more. And if so, a good trainer is worth every penny you pay for them. I will push that you make sure the trainer teaches without any hitting. Hitting dogs to punish them is both mean and stupid. Mean because, of course, it hurts. But stupid because it teaches the dog to fear your hand – a hand you want the dog to love and enjoy.
Also, there are a zillion books out there about training and raising dogs. My favorite is “The Art of Raising a Puppy” by the Monks of New Skete. It almost seems like a joke, but this book is real: a monastery was going broke, and started raising money by breeding and training German Shepherd puppies. Which mean that the men who lived there only did two things with their lives – pray, and watch puppies develop. In so doing, they became the best puppy experts ever. Even if you don’t follow every word they say, the book is just fantastic, and has the best advice I’ve ever seen.
Well, except for mine. But, again… I’ve never raised a puppy!