I have been holidaying at the beach over the past few weeks. Yesterday, I met a lovely lady on my regular jaunt to the local dog beach. This lady had a one year old bitza that she rescued from the pound a few months ago. Naturally Ben (my almost four month old puppy) and her dog hit it off right away. As the lady let her dog off the lead she said to me, ‘I’ve forgotten to bring the treats, my dog never listens to me when she is off the lead’. I could see what she meant, the dog had no interest in coming back to her, or even looking at her. I think this lady would have found the walk difficult, but at least the beach is a very safe one.
The point is, being prepared is an integral part of dog training. Good preparation is all about understanding your dog. You know your dog better than anyone, you know what they like, what ticks them off, and how they are likely to react in any given situation. With this knowledge comes a responsibility to be prepared for likely events that may trigger a reaction in your dog. Like the lady in the story above, if you know your dog doesn’t have a good recall and you forget to take the treats out with you, your walk/outing will be much more difficult. In addition, if you know your dog doesn’t have a good recall, try to work on it.
Once you know what skills need developing in your dog, you can then prepare yourself and your dog for better outcomes. For example, if your dog loves to chase distractions you should spend some time training your dog to watch you when the distraction is around. Your dog must also have a great recall, so that if they see the distraction first, you can get their attention back quickly. This will only work with practice. Acknowledge that your dog needs work in this area, and expose them to specific distractions in a constructive way. Over time this preparation will change the way your dog reacts in a given situation.
Preparation can also begin in the home. If you are having trouble managing your dog in the home, any issue, think about what triggers the problem, and be prepared to train a new behaviour before the old one starts. For example, if your dog jumps on the couch while you are sitting on it, have their mat by your feet and have some toys around you for them to play with. You could even sit on the floor and play with your dog until they settle down. See that your dog is walking or running towards you, know that they will try and get on to the couch- be prepared for it, and stop it from happening in the fist place. If you cannot deal with the jumping at that moment, your dog should be in their confinement areas, again prepare yourself for such behaviours to occur, you know your dog better than anyone else, you know what they will do in a given moment.
So what happens if you don’t prepare and think ahead? Your dog or puppy may end up wearing you out. You may feel like you are constantly ‘fighting fires’ and you may end up not even wanting to be in your dogs’ company. This is how so many dogs’ end up living outside. Understanding your dog and being prepared for behaviours means that you can anticipate problems before they arise and change your dogs’ behaviour.
My puppy Ben, loves carry things in his mouth, anything! I am aware that this can be a problem- when he meets people he may start to mouth them, or he may try and grab my clothes while we are walking. I prepare for this, so that when I go for a walk with him I always, always carry a toy with me. When he ‘starts up’ (I can see it starting because I know my dog) I simply give him his toy to carry. I know that practice makes perfect, this counts for both good and bad behaviours, I try not to let Ben practice ‘bad’ behaviours.
There are also practical things you can do to be better prepared for your dogs’ behaviour. Things like, leaving a jar of liver treats by the front door for visitors to take to give to your dog for sitting etc. Having a basket of toys by the back door so that when you come home you can interact appropriately with your dog. If you are going to be out all day, having enough treats or activities ready for your dog to do while you are gone, even taking the time to take them on a short walk before you leave.
Try dividing the training raw meat up in to zip lock backs, placing them in the freezer, and pulling one bag out each night for training the next day. Prepartion such as this sets you and your dog up for success.
Dog training will be much easier in the long run for you if you are prepared. Granted it takes lots of time, organisation, and energy to be this prepared. However, once your dogs’ behaviour is changed you can spend the rest of your dogs’ life not having to worry about their behaviour. You might find that many of the preparations you make will become habit and part of your routine.
My tennis coach is always reminding me of the five ‘P’s, ‘Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance’, the same can be said for dog training- which I am infinitely better at.