Lessons That My Dogs Have Taught Me About Training

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Remy and Caira are two very different dogs. Remy, a Golden Retriever, is a sweet boy who always wants to please and who takes corrections to heart. He’s my lovey boy, always wanting to be at my side and giving me kisses. Caira, a Belgian Malinois, is most like me in personality. She’s a true go-getter and is always looking for the next thing that she can accomplish. “Anything you can do, I can do better” is her mantra, and although she may fall a hundred times while trying to reach her goal, she is persistent and reaches her goal every time. I often wonder what led me to getting two polar opposite dogs and why they get along so well. However, having these two different personalities has taught me a few lessons that are invaluable.

1) Honor the Breed

Golden Retrievers are bred for hunting and companionship. They were meant to be versatile in the field and relaxed in the home. When Remy was a puppy he was very happy, and he received love, attention, and basic training. The first time I took him to the field and let him retrieve a bird, though, his eyes lit up. I had never seen a dog that excited, eager, thrilled – it was as if centuries of ancestry had led to this moment. Because of his joy in the field, we continue to train and compete in hunt tests. When Remy gets to BE Remy, and gets to train in the field, he is a different dog at home. You can absolutely tell that he knows his purpose and wants to live his purpose.

Caira is similar. Although Malinois were originally bred for herding, they have been bred more recently for law enforcement and military use. Her lineage includes multiple military and law enforcement K9s. Like Remy, when allowed to work in her area of ‘expertise’, she thrives. There is nothing greater, in her mind, than getting to bite the ‘bad guy’.

When you get a dog, ether from a breeder or a shelter, it’s important to understand their past. While a shelter dog may not have the pedigree or drive toward one individual task, it is equally as important to consider your dog’s breed(s) and work your dog accordingly. If you have a Husky mix, consider weight pulling. Give your terrier a chance to search and apprehend small game. When a dog is allowed to live it’s purpose, true happiness and fulfillment is clear.

2) Honor Your Dog’s Temperament

Every dog should be trained, no matter how energetic they are. However, it’s important to understand and know your dog before choosing the method and amount in which to train.

Remy, for example, enjoys training for medium levels of time and thrives with positive reinforcement. When he does what I am asking him to do, I praise him with a lot of energy, and when I do have to correct him, I do so lightly. Giving Remy a strong correction causes him to shut down – shutting down leads to the training session being unproductive (or counterproductive) and doesn’t help either of us.

Caira loves to train for long periods of time and although she does enjoy positive reinforcement, she is also much more receptive to corrections than Remy. However, she takes longer to learn new tricks, and training can get repetitive and boring. It’s important for me to mix things up for her to keep her mind engaged during training.

If you have a dog that is extremely excitable, it’s important to keep your energy low and praise at low levels. If you have a dog that is very mellow, being very excited during training can help amp them up. Knowing your dog’s temperament is a major part of being successful during training.

3) Know When to Start and When to Stop

Your dog needs to be in the right frame of mind for training. For some dogs, that means getting their energy down by taking a short walk or jog before starting a training session. For others, it helps to amp them up by getting them excited about their favorite toy or treat.

When ending a training session it is important to always end on success. If your dog feels that you got frustrated and stopped training, he will be less likely to want to engage in future training sessions. If you work so long that the dog is tired or bored, they can lose drive for training.

4) Take Time for Cuddles

As a dog trainer in Austin, I tend to get overly focused on accomplishing new things with my dogs and forget about just relaxing with them. At the end of the day, dogs were bred as companions – they want to be with their people. Whether training that day has gone well or has been a total flop, I always try to spend time just relaxing with my dogs. Everyone needs some time off!

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