I hit a nerve.
Dozens of people commented on my post about why I don’t train my dog better, sharing their love for their dogs’ individual quirks. And hundreds more have come from all over the web to read it.
I’m pleased I didn’t get any wackadoo comments from people who think training a dog at all is hindering his nature. I really didn’t expect any. After all, Something Wagging This Way Comes is where the smart and thoughtful dog lovers hang out.
But it did get me thinking. Why do I train Honey? What do I want to accomplish? And how do I decide which behaviors to train and which ones to not bother with?
The 5 Reasons I Train My Dog
Every training session Honey and I do together supports at least one of these five reasons.
Nothing convinces you more of safety practice than a major training failure. I’ve had two, both on recall.
The first time was a snowy walk in a state park on a sub-zero day. No one was around so I let Honey wander off leash. And then she took off like a rocket down the hill.
Honey had spotted someone else walking his dog. And she didn’t hear a single one of my calls to her. She probably had too much wind in her ears from running for the sound of my voice to compete.
Horrible visions flashed through my mind: the man kicking Honey to get her away from his dog, the dog taking a piece out of Honey, or Honey getting scared and running off into the woods and getting lost.
Luckily, the man was very understanding. His pit mix was a friendly boy who calmly greeted the puppy who was whirling like a dervish. And Honey was excited enough by her new friends to stay with them until I caught up to reattach her leash.
I learned a hard lesson that day. I continually work on Honey’s recall in a wide-range of settings and situations.
I also try to remember that it’s not only Honey’s safety I need to be concerned with. She may only be 50 pounds, but Honey lovin’ could knock down a child or frail person. And it’s my job to not only keep my dog safe but to also keep people safe from my dog.
This is a tough one for me.
I defer to other’s sensitivities so much that I tend to disappear. And I don’t want Honey to always have to be on her best behavior so other people and their dogs can behave like jerks.
But courtesy is important to me.
And so I’ve taught Honey to stay out of people’s flower beds, move off the sidewalk when people run or walk by, and not greet strangers at random unless she is invited to do so.
I hope that her good manners make her welcome everywhere. Which brings me to my third reason for training my dog.
I want Honey to go with me anywhere it’s comfortable for her to do so.
She has stayed with us in hotels. She has joined us on boat tours. She comes along when we dine on the patio at restaurants.
When it’s safe, I give Honey time off-leash to walk or play fetch.
Because Honey is a polite and well-mannered dog, she is welcome many places. She has the freedom to join us many places we choose to go.
Maybe I’m selfish in always wanting her to go with us. But wait until you see my fourth reason for training her.
Sometimes it’s all about me.
Let me tell you about Honey’s star behavior that impresses all our house guests.
As soon as I start to cook, Honey runs over to her pillow and lies down. She quickly learned that hovering around my feet (or should I say “Hoovering”) while I’m cooking is a sure way to starve.
But, if she hangs out on her pillow, I’ll toss her a piece of cheese or carrot every so often.
My guests find her polite behavior enchanting. But I find it very convenient.
It certainly makes me love her just a little bit more knowing I won’t be tripping over her when I’m handling knives or pots of boiling pasta water.
Which brings me to the last reason I train my dog.
Every dog is motivated by different things. Yes, Honey loves food. And you’ll get her attention with a ball or squeaky toy.
But deep down, what really excites her is friendship.
Honey will walk away from food if the right person comes in the door. And she rarely plays with toys by herself.
When we’re training, Honey gets excited. She wants to please. Yes, she knows the clicker means food will be coming. But even when I don’t have treats on me, she looks to me to figure out what’s happening next.
I train Honey because it builds our ties to each other. It teaches me how to communicate in ways she understands. It teaches her that I will always have something fun or yummy planned for her.
Training builds our relationship.
Easy to Train vs Hard to Train
Honey is easy to train. Working with her is far less frustrating than training my last dog, Shadow, who was a slave to her sniffer.
But even if you don’t have a people-oriented, smart, Golden Retriever at your side, you benefit from the training you do with your dog.
I don’t believe every dog can learn every behavior. But isn’t figuring out what you and your dog can do together part of the fun?
Your Turn: Why do you train your dogs? And why don’t you?