A common question for dog owners is, what sort of time commitment is it going to take to get my dog trained?
And it's a valid concern. After all, we want well behaved, obedient dogs, but we also have busy lives filled with work, kids, family commitments, and social time, too. So today I want to offer my take on how to efficiently train your dog and keep that training going for years to come.
1. The Walk
This is a biggie. Each and every dog owner should make an effort to walk their dog every day.
First, your dog needs to stretch their legs and burn off some extra energy. We all do. How much exercise your dog needs will vary based on age and breed, and you can certainly supplement the walk with high-intensity activities like fetch or swimming, but don't skip the walk!
It's not just about exercise. The walk is when your dog will get routine exposure to distractions, which helps reinforce staying calm and focused and practicing impulse control. It's also when you'll practice loose-leash heeling, as well as your other commands like sit, down, and coming when called. Safe to say a lot of training happens on the walk.
I recommend 45 minutes a day or so, but do what you can and adjust as needed based on your schedule and dog.
Practice makes perfect, as they say. You'll need routine practice if your dog is going to get really good at performing and holding their obedience commands.
I like to keep training sessions relatively short, usually 10-15 minutes, but even 5 minutes at a time will do. Shoot for 2-3 training sessions a day to go over whatever commands you're working on. Even when you've covered all your commands, keep practicing by doing combinations like calling your dog around the house and putting them in a down or place command.
Everything we've talked about so far is active stuff, meaning you're actively engaged with your dog and taking time to train them. It also involves your dog moving around either by walking with you or rehearsing their commands.
Duration is different, but no less important. In fact, it's some of the most valuable training you'll do, and it's totally passive. Cool huh?
Have your dog in place or a down while you're going about your life. Doing some work? Cooking or eating a meal? Watching TV or reading a book? Have your dog in a duration command to reinforce calmness and impulse control no matter what's going on. It's a fantastic exercise and should be practiced daily.
There you have it, some easy tips on how to integrate dog training into your daily life. It'll take a little time, but keep at it and, most importantly, stay consistent!
When it comes to dog training, owners have A LOT of information to work through if they're to get the obedient, calm, happy dog they're looking for. That goes double for anyone dealing with problem behaviors like aggression, fearfulness, or anxiety.
Do you reward with treats and affection? What about when your dog misbehaves?
Ignore the behaviors you'd like to change?
Correct the dog and risk damaging your relationship beyond repair?
Let "dogs be dogs" and figure it out on their own?
Today I'd like to talk about one of the most controversial training tools out there: the remote collar/e-collar/shock collar.
First, here at Confident Canines, we use e-collars. A lot. Like as in on every dog that passes through our Reboot Your Dog in 60 Days program goes home on an e-collar. So it's safe to say we don't buy into all the hoopla about them damaging dogs physically and mentally, or making dogs impossibly fearful of their handlers (and neither do our clients).
Now, if you're unsure about this remarkable training tool, don't click away just yet. Read on and see if any of the insights in this post give you a new perspective.
So, why am I so big on using e-collars? In short, they’re reliable, they enable off-leash freedom, they’re extremely safe, and as gentle as possible on the dog. What's not to like right? If all this is the case, where does the controversy come from?
Well, I can't say for sure, but I'd hazard a guess that a lot of it comes from simple misinformation about how modern e-collars work. Years ago (like, decades), e-collars were primarily meant to be punitive. They were intended to deliver a literal electric shock to your dog as a means of punishing them (hence the name "shock" collars). And I think for a lot of people, this is still the image they have in their heads. They believe that the sensation of an e-collar is like touching an exposed wire in their house.
But I'm happy to say, things have changed. Modern e-collars are highly and finely adjustable. The ones we use range from 1-100, and I defy any dog owner to even feel the sensation at lower levels. I for one can't even detect the sensation until around 12 or 13. And believe me, even at that level it registers as little more than a slight tickle. Now your dog will likely feel it a bit lower than that, but regardless, the notion that it's a harsh, intense shocking sensation is simply untrue.
Beyond simply misunderstanding the nature of the tool, some people take issue with the idea of "correcting" or telling their dog "no" altogether. To this, I say that, well, life has consequences... Think about it, can you really escape consequences? Positive or negative, they're all around you, all day, every day, am I right? Are there very many choices you make in a day that are of literally no consequence? I doubt it!
Consequences are simply a part of life, and that's not a bad thing! Consequences not only help us learn, they help us stay on track and be accountable to ourselves and others. They comes in all shapes and sizes; some are small, some are big, some aren't so bad, and some, well, really stink. But they keep on coming, and they always will.
And the same is true for our dogs. Our dogs are all on this big spinning marble, just like us, and as long as that's the case they'll have consequences for their behavior. The question is, where will those consequences be coming from, and what kind of behaviors will they encourage or discourage?
It's my belief that it's our job to lead and guide our dogs through life. They don't come to us knowing how to make good choices, or integrate themselves into our very human world successfully all on their own. They need help. And that's where we come in. We're here not only to share love and affection with our dogs, but also to share with them expectations, rules, boundaries, and, you guessed it, consequences.
How do we do this? Well, for positive stuff it's easy! Treats, food, water, love, a pat on the head or a simple "good boy!".
For the negative stuff, well that's where people get a little stuck. I think the best way to share not only guidance and direction, but correction as well is using good, high quality tools. Think about it, what makes a good correction? How about something that's consistent, effective, lasts less than a second, intense enough that it avoids underwhelming the dog, while also not being so intense that it overwhelms the dog, and is devoid of emotional tension in the form of anger, frustration, or annoyance? I'd say that's a pretty good recipe, and the e-collar certainly fits the bill!
As I said, e-collars are highly adjustable, so you can find exactly the right levels for your particular dog in the particular situation in which you find yourself. Furthermore, a quick tap on the button on your remote will last less than a second, so any discomfort isn't exactly going to be ongoing. They're 100% consistent no matter who's holding the remote. I'm telling you, it doesn't matter if it's you, me, or The Rock pressing that button, it's the same sensation every time. Finally, they negate the need for any emotion, which makes for very effective training.
So we've established dogs need consequences, and that the e-collar is a great way to deliver consistent consequences for things we don't like, but is that all? Absolutely not!
E-collars also enable off-leash freedom in ways that no other tool can. Want to take your dog to any park, anywhere, any time and know your dog will come when called every single time? Want to go off-leash hiking with your dog and know they'll stay by your side the whole time? Want to be able to hold your dog accountable to a Down or Place at any distance in any environment? Well, e-collars are for you.
Yes, dogs come for treats, Yes, dogs will learn how to do behaviors with reward. I mean, that's how we teach all these behaviors in the first place. But can you really say that your dog will never get so distracted that treats cease to matter? The world is a distracting place, and sometimes stimulating variables like squirrels, cats, other dogs, or the leftover Taco Bell someone decided to leave in the park are just too tempting to focus on something like a command.
Not only that, but treats have diminishing value as time goes on. Let's say you did a nice 5K run on a hot day. You'd really like a Gatorade, so much so that you're willing to pay $2 for one. You drink it down and it hits the spot just like you'd hoped. Maybe, though, you're still a little thirsty. Do you go for a second? Well, if the day is hot enough, and the desire strong enough, sure you will. But what about the third? You might really love Gatorade. But come on, you won't keep forking over $2 indefinitely no matter how great that first one was.
Treats can have a similar effect with dogs. A hungry, eager dog may turn on a dime to come when called for those first few treats. But then, he's not so hungry. Then, it gets easier to start favoring other fun stuff like chasing squirrels over another treat.
Relying too heavily on treats assumes that consistent availability of them will ensure consistent behavior from each and every dog, and I don't think that argument holds true in reality. However, if we had a way to give our dog a tap on the shoulder at a level that truly motivates them when they became distracted (hint: we do!), well then we'd have a way to consistently keep our dog's attention and focus. Over time (and not much time at that) our dog would learn that responding to commands is simply the only option. If they ignore it, we have a way to enforce it, and with enough repetition they come to know and expect that.
And isn't this really what we're looking for? Do we want to have to constantly "buy" our dog's good behavior and choices? Should training be forever about a "payoff"? Frankly, I don't think so. I'm all about rewarding good choices, even in the long term. But I'm also all about working towards having a dog that does what I ask because, well, I asked them to. That's called respect, and it's a fundamental part of any relationship.
I respect my dogs by considering their needs, giving them plenty of exercise, structure, accountability, food, water, recreational time like running at the park or chewing a bone, among other things. In return, I think it's fair that I ask my dogs to respect me enough to follow through on the basic things I ask them to do, like walking calmly with me on our adventures, coming when I call, not growling when I take their food or bones away...simple stuff like that.
Ok, ok, I've waxed on about how great e-collars are. Because they are! I'm telling you, whether you're wanting to train obedience for a young pup, rehabilitate aggression, anxiety, or other major behavioral problems. e-collars can help tremendously. I know because I've seen it and done it over and over and over again. And the dogs? Well, safe to say I have yet to come across one that ended up afraid of me or their owners.
But let's spend a little time on the other side of the coin. Can these tools do harm? Can they hurt dogs? Can they actually CREATE behavior problems.
Yes! But you know what? So can anything else.
Every client I have (clients who, mind you, are paying me good money because of the issues they're already facing with their dogs) brings their dog in on either a flat-buckle collar or a harness. But somehow I don't hear people shouting "harnesses cause aggression" or "nylon collars encourage anxiety". And for good reason, they don't! They're just tools. Inanimate objects. They can't "do" anything. It's what the handlers do with those tools that create problems.
The same goes for e-collars. Can e-collars be used in a non-productive, damaging way? Sure. But let's not blame the tool for that. If we did, we'd have to abandon virtually any tool on the market today. After all, a finger tapping your dog on the shoulder isn't a big deal, but fingers balled into a fist and swung at your dog are a very big deal. Same tool, different application.
And this brings up an important point. If you choose to e-collar train your dog (and I hope you will) you should absolutely either seek out a qualified trainer or educate yourself prior to beginning. The last thing I want is owners putting e-collars on their dogs and pushing buttons. E-collars are fantastic tools for communicating with your dog, but first you have to teach them the "language" of the remote collar.
On its own, the stimulation your dog feels is meaningless. It's the training strategies and protocols which assign meaning to the sensation, thereby allowing your dog to understand what it is we're trying to communicate. And this takes time and patience. Truthfully, it takes hundreds if not thousands of repetitions to fully remote collar train a dog.
All this practice affords plenty of time to not only teach the dog, but to allow them to make mistakes. It's in these times of mistake that we can provide guidance to the dog on what we like, what we don't like, and how they should respond when they feel pressure from the e-collar. Without a strong foundation firmly in place, we can't expect our dogs to respond appropriately out in real-life situations.
So, what does this all mean?
It means remote collars are getting a bad rap. They're simply misunderstood by some, or don't fit the training agenda of others.
The truth is e-collars are safe. They're as gentle as any tool can be. They're reliable and consistent. They transfer easily from trainer to owner, or between owners within a household.
Not only that, but they HELP dogs. They allow us to quickly and painlessly work through serious issues, and that not only benefits people, but our dogs as well. Dogs who are lunging on the leash, biting people, getting into fights, or whining in their crates all day are STRESSED OUT dogs. They're dogs who need our help.
They also make our dogs' worlds so much BIGGER! Dogs who have awesome off-leash obedience
can explore so much more of this world with us. They can go to parks and roam free, they can visit shops and restaurants and cafes with us. They can easily go with us to our friends' or families' houses.
So when it comes to e-collars, keep an open mind. Check out some of our videos, or those of other trainers. See what's possible, and what owners who have used them in conjunction with a solid training plan are saying.
I bet you'll be glad you did :)
Longer walks. More fetch. Cycling. More dog park trips.
A common response, or rather, remedy, to behavior problems is more exercise. More intensity. More, well, GO!
I'm all for exercising dogs, but here's the question to ask: can you keep up? Really? For how long? If you're a marathon runner, maybe your answers are a bit skewed. But for the rest of us, our dogs will very often be more athletic than we are. They can run longer, faster, and more often. They can chase balls longer than we can throw them. And all that "more"? It's likely increasing their endurance and habituating them to intense physical activity. Meaning you'll need...yep, you guessed it. More!
So, if you find yourself taking the "tire them out" approach but still struggling, let's try taking the concept of "more" and putting our own spin on it.
How about more...
Patience at thresholds?
Controlled, slow, movement on walks and in the house?
By adding more of all the above, you'll shift gears from focusing solely on your dog's body to focusing heavily on their mind. And believe me, working your dog's brain can yield a far more pooped pooch then hours of running.
To be clear, you should 100% exercise your dog daily, but balancing physical exercise with mental work may just be the ticket to a calmer more peaceful dog.
That's the question!
Answer? No. Don't dog park.
That was easy.
Oh, you want more? Ok ok..
Here's the thing. Dog parks look great on paper. They're dedicated spaces for dogs to run and play and blow off steam. What's not to love?
Well..real life is a little less ideal. First off, every park is different, and there's probably some great ones out there. But generally speaking, they're risky, to say the least.
Your typical dog park is a free-for-all in every sense. Dogs have little to no training or structure, and owners rarely have legitimate control over their dogs. They're also likely not super aware of what body language to look out for, how to judge if play is getting too rough, or how to address nasty behavior. Also, they probably aren't even really paying attention. I'm not judging, I'm just saying.
Even if everything is looking OK, when it comes to groups of adrenalized dogs in a high-drive state, things can escalate in a hurry. And all it takes is one moment going sour to cause some damage. It's not uncommon at all for a trainer to get a dog that was happy-go-lucky easy peasy.
Until. Until that one dog, that one time, at that one park got nasty and pounced on him/her. Now, the dog's fearful, unsure, reactive, skittish. And who could blame it? That kind of stuff can be traumatizing. Sure, it can be worked through, but why take the risk in the first place?
Big events aside, the fact is bad habits rub off. Taking your pup to the park to "learn how to socialize"? How do you know the random dogs there have any skills worth passing on? Or that they're interested? Chances are, the "lessons" learned will be all the wrong ones.
And let's not even get into medical stuff (really think all those dogs are vaccinated, on flea prevention, AND routinely dewormed??)!
I'm coming down a bit harsh here, and if your park works for you and your dog, don't stop just because of some guy on the internet! But, it may be worth considering the risk/reward ratio, what your training and behavior goals are, and how dog parks might be affecting them.
The title of this post is an idea put forth by the great Stephen Covey. He talks about it in terms of how we, as people, relate to one another. The gist is that how we see ourselves, others, and the world in general greatly affects what actions we take in our lives, particularly in times of conflict. This, in turn, affects the result that we're left with as a consequence of those actions, or what we get.
I think the point he was trying to make was that we all have biases and preconceived ideas. It's just the way it is. But, if we learn to be mindful of and recognize them, we open ourselves up to new ways of thinking, new paradigms. Then, as a result, what we get from the world can also change.
That's all well and good, but what's this got to do with dog training??
Well... a lot!
Many people find themselves not only struggling with their dogs, they feel stuck too. Hopeless, even. Too many times to count I've spoken with owners who are convinced of what their dog can, and can't, do.
My dog can't relax. Or walk well on a leash. Or go to the park. Or come when I call. The list goes on.
I don't blame the owners. After all, there's A LOT of mixed information out there. Nor do I deny that dogs do have limitations. Not every dog can perform at the highest of levels, especially if they've got years of anxiety or aggression to work past.
But, maybe if we change the way we SEE our dogs and their behaviors, we might change what we DO, or our approach. If Mr. Covey is right, this should change what we GET.
So, if you're struggling, maybe take a look at what beliefs you can change. Can you open yourself up to a new training method? A new way of relating to your dog? A new way of thinking about how your dog fits into your life, or what their needs are? How about what your needs are?
These are just a few examples, and they might not be right for you or your dog. But, they also might be worth examining, just in case.
Here's what I do know: your dog can change, because you can change. Your dog can learn a new way of being, because you can learn a new way of seeing them. And it's all downhill from there.