Too often I hear from clients the common mistakes were made out the gate. Prioritizing comfort, friendship, and fun. Yes, dog training should be fun, but like parenthood the goal is to be both someone who your child wants to go to for advice but also a disciplinarian. If you lean to far towards friendship, your advice can fall on deaf ears as it is undervalued. If you lean too far towards disciplinarian, your kids would never come to you for input, especially at risk of getting in trouble. Balanced dog training refers to this equilibrium owners and trainers aspire towards within their relationship with their dog. When you adopt a new dog it is a clean slate. A beautiful opportunity to slow things down and introduce your dog to your world slowly and piece-meal.
While often dogs were at some point kenneled in a shelter, it is not a race to get them as much comfort and access as possible when your bring them home. While often people anthropomorphize dogs, this is a strange example where many people don’t. If you did, imagine a stranger coming into your house and rubbing their muddy boots all over your couch. In no way is that a demonstration of how comfortable they are. They are either jerks or don’t get couches. With dogs, it is most certainly the latter but that’s why we don’t race into access without teaching our dogs how to handle access responsibly first.
The more space we grant our dogs, the more rules they need to understand. The simplest set of rules for our dogs are the crate which is why that is the first thing every trainer teaches a board and train dog. That is the first step you should take as well. The crate should very much be parallel to a child’s bedroom. It is a space away from all of the excitement to relax, reset, and rest. No one else should be going in it, no one else bothers your dog in the crate, there are very minimal expectations in there. The rules of the crate are, no barking, no whining, and no pawing at or chewing the crate(keep in mind we need to look for potty cues from puppies, always adjust to the dog in front of you). If they don’t love the crate day one, feed them all meals in the crate(this can evolve into crate training).
When outside the crate, there are a ton of rules to master. Things like the couch or the bed are complex. They should be asking permission to get on, respectfully get off as soon as asked, never bring toys up, never sit on the arms or back of the couch, never use it like a jungle gym. Rather than delving into such a gray territory up front, hold off on access to stuff like couches and beds until you can teach all of those nuanced rules. To keep them off you will want them wearing a drag-leash(any light weight leash that won’t hinder their movement around your home while it drags on the ground) any time you are awake and supervising them. If they aren’t used to the leash and decide they want to try to bite it or turn it into a game of tug, we highly recommend correcting them for that behavior with a technique that does not use the leash.
Slow and steady wins the race. Learning a new space can be overwhelming for a dog, don’t rush to teach them the complexity of your entire home day one, do one room a week. Keep things simple and straight forward(so don’t start with the kitchen).
When the Crate command is going really well, transition to using mealtime to focus on obedience commands. Tricks like giving paw provide no value when it comes to teaching your dog the rules of your home. Obedience commands on the other hand are what you can always fall back on when your dog makes a poor choice about something that is nuanced. We want to correct dogs for things that are incredibly black and white, like don’t chew the leash. We want to fall back to structure(switching from free access to an obedience command) when our dogs do things that are gray like bringing a toy on the couch. Saying “Out” and “Place” tells them to drop the toy and go to their bed. They lost access to the toy and to the couch. You can bring the toy back to them in place or put the toy away and invite them back on the couch. Having the toy is okay and being on the couch(with permission) is okay. It was the combination that didn’t work. We want our dogs to be apprehensive about biting the leash but not apprehensive about their toys or the couch. Understanding that obedience commands open the door to teaching our dogs how to navigate the nuanced rules of the world around them is one of the greatest keys to success for any dog owner.
Why have all of these crazy rules for your dog in the first place, it is your house so who cares? If you don’t want your dogs jumping on guests or crawling on the back of the couch while your relatives are on the couch, don’t start implementing rules that have never existed before when it is convenient. If you want your dogs to listen to you outside where there are so many unknowns, they should probably practice listening to you in an environment that is relatively simple. You spend far more time with your dog in your house than out, so that is the best time to give them complex expectations and show them that you are someone they should look to. Moreover, we want to balance our affection with our expectations. Participation Trophies are a tried and tested parenting technique and is equally effective with our dogs.
1. Use meal time to train your dog(starting with crate training and then obedience)
2. Attach a leash to your dog and supervise them whenever they leave the crate
3. Introduce your dog to one room a week during supervised time(kitchen last).
4. Its a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t rush that hike, super long walk, or socialization. Train first, then do the fun activities.