On February 18, 2013 our little family of 3 started a journey into the world of dog training.
We had high hopes of fixing some specific issues and learning how to communicate better with Oliver, and him to communicate better with us. All of our expectations were achieved, and exceeded. We have been going every single week (we only missed if our teacher was out) for a year. We went through private lessons, Beginner class, Intermediate class, and Advanced class.
Then this past Tuesday (February 18, 2014- exactly a year!) Oliver graduated from Advanced class! (Although technically we are finished, we will continue going to work on his socializing with other dogs).
He has matured so much through this, as have we. I highly recommend going to training, no matter what age your dog is. Since this has consumed a lot of our life over the past year, I thought I would share some thoughts/tips/advice I feel we’ve learned along the way. (I am NOT a certified trainer/vet/etc., these are just some thoughts and recommendations from our personal experience. Always seek professional counsel if needed.)
- If at all possible, find a trainer you and your dog really connect with. We were very lucky with this. We all immediately had a connection with our trainer and really love her so much. Especially when we were doing the private sessions, to me training had the same feel as a counseling session. You want to trust your trainer and what they’re telling you and feel comfortable bringing issues up other than just what’s taught in the class. Which leads me to…
- Find a trainer who works with you and your dog on everything- not just commands. Our trainer played a HUGE part in Oliver’s food allergy journey. She’s helped us with things like small medical concerns and reminding us he needs his nails trimmed. She also has used personal time and her own dog to help us work on Oliver’s socialization issues.
- Our trainer is great about interacting with the dogs, as well as dog parents. Having someone who communicates well with the humans is a must.
- There are different methods of training. We used reward based (treats), but clicker training is another effective method. However, be wary of shock collar or isolation training methods. I’ve heard some really sad stories about cases where these have gone bad and permanently harmed the dog. For the most part, we as humans learn through reward based, so it should work for dogs too!
- But in addition to the one method, there can be other things to try if something isn’t working. We have used a spray bottle and ultrasonic noise for various issues and both worked well, with no harm to Oliver.
- Go somewhere your dog loves going to! If we say the word “school” Oliver goes CRAZY with excitement. As we pull into the shopping center each week he starts whining and cannot wait to get out of the car and go into school to see his teacher. It’s really cute, but also so important in this process. If he wasn’t excited about it, then what would be the point? Training should be fun and enjoyable for the dog and for you.
- Commit! Over the year, there are a few people who have stayed the course, but a lot kind of flake in and out. If you’re going to do this, and spend the money, then make the time! Few things should be more important than getting on the same page with your dog, teaching him, and spending some quality time with him. Putting in this effort will help everything in your home life go so much smoother. We are really the only ones who have been every week. The two weeks between Christmas and New Year’s- we were the only ones that attended. A few weeks ago it was cold and getting icy- we went anyway, no one else did. Commit!
- A plus of training is the awesome quality time you get with your pet. At home there are so many constant distractions, but for that hour each week, you have time to just be with them. It really helps in building your relationship with your pet.
- Practice is important in this process. But it doesn’t have to become a chore. We usually practice with him for about 10 minutes each evening. He enjoys it and gets so excited. And for us it’s a way to make sure we’re spending some quality time with him. I created a way to practice everything randomly, and it makes it more fun for me.
- Don’t just practice the commands- find some other ways to integrate fun into learning. We purchased Oliver a game for Christmas that we all enjoy working with. We got ours from Petco, but they also have several at Petsmart (Toys R Us brand).
- Be consistent. For example, Michael feeds him in the mornings and I generally feed him in the evenings, but we both give the same commands and have the same expectations (Sit. Wait. Take.). When going on a walk/putting his leash one (On your spot. Wait. Go.)
Overall I hope that everyone with a dog makes the time to do some training and experiences the joy, fun, and growth that comes from it. It is really one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We don’t have a whole lot of money, but are so glad that we chose to make this a priority. And it has been the best investment we could make.
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