How Well Should We Train Our Dogs?

Get a few dog lovers together, add a little vodka, and the confessions start flying. Or just write a blog post about why dogs jump and everyone shares their training fails. Or their choices not to train.

It got me thinking: how well should we train our dogs?

Honey the golden retriever comes when she's called.

Just look at my recall. Am I well-trained or what?

Train Your Dog Like the Marines

My husband jokes that he stays fit by reading one book about exercise every week. He must be in great shape, because I’ve seen a few books on the shelf over the years.

His Marine Corps Guide to Physical Fitness said something interesting. In the Marines, physical fitness is subjective. A Marine must be fit enough to carry out his duties without getting tired and still give an extra push when needed.

Obviously, a fit Marine is going to look a lot different from a fit office worker. But the idea is the same. You need to be fit enough to manage your regular day and then do just a little bit more—whether it’s running from sudden sniper fire or trying to catch a bus.

I think it’s a good definition for training our dogs. We want our dogs to be well-trained enough to manage their everyday lives. And they should be able to cope with something just a little bit strange, like a vet visit.

Obviously, a guide dog or a sheep herder will need better training than a dog whose people always stay at home and whose job is being snuggly on the couch. And that’s just fine.

So how do I decide what’s important to train Honey and what I can let slide?

How Well Do I Train Honey?

Most of the time Honey’s “job” is being snuggly on the couch. But she has two other important part-time jobs: hosting foster dogs and greeting her adoring fans.

When we bring a foster puppy or dog into the house, Honey has to accept them immediately. If they are puppies or recovering from surgery, she needs to be very gentle. And she has to tolerate sharing space, toys, and food with a dog she barely knows.

Honey the golden retriever and Ginny the foster dog are trained well enough to be together.

Okay, you can chew one of my Nylabones. But don’t think you’re taking it with you when you go.

As for greeting her public—

Newfoundland people say their dogs get lots of attention on the street. And a friendly greyhound always catches the eye.  But despite there being one on every corner, does any dog get more attention than a bouncy golden retriever?

Parents like to use Honey to teach their kids about how to properly greet a dog. People who miss their long-lost dogs want to hug her. And few dog lovers can resist Honey who starts “dancing” as soon as she notices someone looking at her.

Honey has to be trained well enough to sit still for little kids, tolerate being held by strangers, and containing her jumping when someone is obviously glad to see her.

Most of the time she does great. But we do have our occasional training fails.

Honey the golden retriever waits for a bite.

This is my biggest training fail ever. You haven’t given me one bite of your cheese sandwich.

Honey Flunks Training

I’ve already confessed that we struggle with keeping Honey from jumping on guests. Since she’s 50 pounds, I’m not willing to let this slide. Honey is big enough that she could  knock someone off-balance.

If she weighed less than 20 pounds, I wouldn’t be such a stickler.

Our other big training issue is when Honey gets pushy with her affections. We love having her cuddle on the couch with us. But she gets needy when we have company. Not only does Honey jump on the couch, but she’ll stand on someone’s lap while they’re talking.

I have to teach her a strong “settle” cue and stick with it.

Obviously training is important if we want Honey to fit into our lives. But behavior management isn’t the only reason to do training. It might not even be the most important reason to train.

Training Builds the Bond With Our Dogs

How many of our closest friends have we met at work?

I believe that working beside someone is one of the best ways to grow a friendship. But most of our best friends, our dogs, don’t have a job besides being company for us. They don’t guard livestock, herd sheep, or catch rats in the barn.

I believe that training is the job we can do with our dogs. And that training builds our bond.

When we brought our last dog, Shadow, home from the SPCA, she had no connection to us whatsoever. She was so nose-driven that she couldn’t care less who was on the other end of that leash.

It wasn’t until we started a class at the SPCA where we learned about clicker training that we started to build our relationship. If it weren’t for the training we did, I don’t think Shadow would have become anything more than just a sweet dog who lived in our house.

Training together made us friends.

My dog rides in a canoe.

Shadow was trained well enough to not tip the canoe.

Train Your Dog Month Challenge

For those of you who don’t know, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers has made January, Train Your Dog Month.

Train Your Dog ChallengeThe past two years we’ve challenged S’Waggers to set a training goal with us. And since the point of training is to build the bond, it doesn’t have to be ambitious.

One training goal I’ve suggested is playing with your dog’s feet when you’re sitting around to make grooming time less nerve-wracking.

At the end of January, everyone who joined the challenge writes about their experience and one participant won a donation to their favorite animal cause.

So I’m asking you now. Are you in?

Frankly, I’m a little beat right now and I could use some encouragement. So if you like the idea of pursuing a January goal that doesn’t involve giving up cookies or beer, let me know in the comments. And if you like the idea of celebrating Train Your Dog Month so much that you’d like to be a co-host with me (it involves writing about the challenge, taking it on yourself, and encouraging others who participate), let me know that too.

In the meantime, I’ll see if I’ve met my own training goals.

Honey the golden retriever walks nicely on leash.

I’ve got you very well-trained. You always remember to fill the treat pouch before a walk.

Meeting My Training Goals

Honey is definitely well-trained using the analogy to the Marines physical fitness program. She does everything I need her to do on a regular basis—come when I call her, walk on a leash without pulling, pay attention to me when we pass other dogs and people on a walk.

And when we need her to do something a little bit extra, like when a foster dog comes to stay, she does that too.

Is Honey perfectly trained? Not by a long shot.

But she is trained well enough to do her job with us. And that’s good enough for me.

Your Turn: How do you decide if your dog is well-trained enough for your needs? Would you like to join the January Train Your Dog Month challenge?

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  1. We’re so in! Duke is definitely not trained to the point we’d like him to be. This will be great inspiration for us to do more with him!

  2. Training is a bad subject in Casa Emma right now. Bailie and Mom are in Obedience 1 and it is a nightmare. I will expand tomorrow in my post, but let’s say, Mom isn’t into those perfect pups and she prefers to train us to do things she wants us to do with her words, that and the fact that she is a stubborn as the GBGV breed makes for trouble in school. Bailie and Mom also love a challenge and Bailie will pass with flying colors the end of February, I’m sure of it! We train for fun all the time but not necessarily the stuff many people train for. Not sure about the blog challenge, though, we will see how things progress.

    • I love when you share that you and your mom are equally stubborn. It can work with you if what you get stubborn about is proving how clever you are about learning new things. 🙂

      Look forward to hearing about the obedience class tomorrow.

      We had a rough time in obedience class with Shadow. Mostly it was because I wasn’t good at communicating with my body. By the time Honey came along, I was much better. 🙂

  3. We’re definitely taking part in Train Your Dog Month, though I haven’t finished my post about it yet because I honestly can’t decide what goals to prioritize! Barking, jumping, recall, barking… I’m putting a lot of thought into it for each of the boys, but I just read an awesome book about training group behaviors, so I sorta want to tackle that, too! I’m definitely in, but with what? TBD!

    • So glad you’re joining the fun.

      I find training a real challenge when I have a foster dog in the house. If I try to work with the foster, Honey complains because she wants to show off her tricks. If I try to work with Honey, the foster gets underfoot. I’d love to know how you manage with three dogs (and a cat).

  4. Count us in! Rhys already trains and has started to compete in agility, but we’d like to get into the Rally-O ring, too. And we could always use a few new tricks! Plus, we have new clippers that I’d like to get him used to, so we’ll have plenty of material to pick from.

    • You might have to throw dice to figure out what to concentrate on. Sounds like you’re ambitious for Rhys. 🙂

      • He’s been in some kind of training almost his whole life: CGC, tracking, agility… He’s an active dog with an active mind, and considering he was brought into this world at my request I kinda figure I owe it to him to give him all the adventure, fun, and activity he needs.

        Although on further consideration, I think I may concentrate on fixing his pathetic recall for this challenge!

  5. Oh, what the heck — count us in again. Princess Ducky still needs work on greeting humans without snarling, growling, snapping, and otherwise being “snarky”. Dontcha just love that word “snarky”?!

    As for co-hosting? I’m not so sure I can handle THAT responsibility along with getting back to my studies AND working on Ducky’s “snarkiness” AND writing about it. If I didn’t have my studies coming up, I’d probably jump at the co-hosting opportunity because it does sound like fun.

  6. PS. For the most part, Callie and Shadow are trained well enough for us. Occasionally I still have to do “refresher classes” for them in waiting for me (or Sam) to go out the door first, or at least waiting for us long enough that they don’t pull our arms out of their sockets! LOL They actually do well when I ask them to; but 95% of the time I just let them go downstairs ahead of me off leash. They have no choice but to wait for me at the back door since it’s always locked except when we’re in the yard. (That way I don’t have to worry about the door being locked when we leave to go out somewhere else. But I do anyway. LOL)

    • I find that lots of dogs are so nice that they don’t need a lot of training to fit into the family. But hopefully if you continue to work with Ducky, she’ll figure out that people aren’t so scary.

      We’re happy to have you join the fun in any way that fits your schedule. 🙂

  7. This is a very timely post as we have just talked about going back to doggie school for some more agility training and some other fun classes (Alfie is choosing between scent classes, urban herding and the tricks class!).

    We’re definitely up for a January challenge and if you need any help co-hosting, we’re in too!

    Linda (& Alfie)

    • Please pick the urban herding because I have no idea what that is and I’m dying to learn more. 🙂

      I’m a little jealous about going back to doggie school. I’d love to take Honey to advanced classes but they’re all out of town and she doesn’t enjoy her bike cart enough to let me pull her 8-10 miles.

      So glad you’re going to join the challenge. And I’d love to welcome you as a co-host. I’ll send you a badge and the linky tool after Christmas.

  8. I’m in. The hardest part will be figuring out a training goal. There are so many. Bailey will be a year old next month so I feel like we both still have so much to learn.
    *No jumping on strangers (I’d like to do therapy dog training with her so this will be key eventually)
    *Looking at me when I say “look at me.”
    *No more counter surfing
    *Dropping whatever she has in her mouth (socks, paper, wading pool. Oh yes, wading pool) when I ask her
    *Learning to hush after a few warning barks. (It’s just a minor annoyance now, but we will have kids eventually and it’s no longer a minor annoyance if she wakes a sleeping baby)
    *Emergency cue — something that would only be used if say, she ended up in the middle of the street and she was in some kind of danger. Like the next level of “come”.

    I think counter surfing is the most important right now. Two days ago she ate the half a stick of butter I accidentally left on the counter while I ran to the store. There was also the stealing of the turkey leg on Thanksgiving, numerous sandwiches and half a bag of treats. Clearly, I need some training too, but I need some help here, pup.

    I feel like there is a happy medium between training the dog out of your dog and not training them at all. I would also like her to be well trained enough to just function in our daily lives. I’d like to be able to take her to a coffee shop and sit outside without worrying about her jumping on the table to running after another dog. I’d like for her to greet people with joy and excitement but keep her paws on the floor. I don’t want to train the dog out of her, but I want her to be well behaved when I need her to be. I let her pull me to greet a person/dog she knows and I let her lick the plates in the dishwasher. She’ll never be perfect, but I’m OK with that.

    • OMG, I didn’t realize how long that comment was.

      • You had a lot to say. 🙂

        Some of the things you’re hoping Bailey can learn will get easier for her as she gets older. At less than a year old, she’s still an adolescent and has yet to learn impulse control.

        I read recently that human adults don’t develop impulse control until they are 26 years old. And that agrees with how much Honey settled down when she got to be two years old or so.

        But you can never start training too early. BTW, if you figure out how to get a dog to stop barking after a short time, let me know. I’ve never been able to teach that one.

        Glad you’re going to join the challenge. It should be fun.

  9. These guys are trained enough for me. The only thing i wish Torrey was better at, would be stay at my side when she is off leash when I tell her to. She will come, and stay, and we will walk 20 feet, and before I know she is 10 feet ahead. If it’s a situation were she HAS to be with me, she goes on the leash.

    • When it’s really important, management is always better than relying on training alone.

      However, if Torrey stays in your general vicinity when you’re walking together, most people would consider that very well trained. Ten feet ahead off leash is better than most dogs do with a flexi leash. 🙂

      Honey will walk by my side off leash if I ask her to. But I’ve never asked her to unless I have something yummy in the treat pouch. 🙂

  10. I can so relate to this. Maya is difficult to control around people she meets, too, and despite training. And I agree that training is a great way to bond. I love training Maya and Pierson and they enjoy training time too. It is those situations outside of training and in public that are a bit difficult. But their job, after all, is to be snuggly on the couch, so I don’t take them out into public very often (other than walks). I think we’ll get in on this dog training month, though. I’ve been slacking off lately. Maya & Pierson need to learn some new tricks.

    • One of the reasons I’ve worked on “public appearances” so much with Honey is because I really like taking her places–restaurants, concerts, outdoor movies. If only my town had more pet-friendly activities.

      I can’t wait to see what tricks you have in store for Maya and Pierson. So glad you’re going to join the challenge.

  11. Since my dogs are little i’ll admit I let training slide. Once they have mastered a command, i should reinforce it more often than I do and going over something on the inside doesn’t always remind them that they should do it on the outside too.

    They are well behaved and I don’t want them to be little joyless robots, but count us in for January. That is, if it is all right with Misty the alpha dog who actually has as much influence on their behavior as I do.

    • Yes, definitely ask Misty first. We don’t want you to get in any trouble. 🙂

      Honey really enjoys training. I was surprised to see how much joy it gave her. Of course, I don’t train any joyless robot tricks. 🙂

  12. I am in all the way. This past year I have been so laaaaaaazy when it comes to training with Shiva and the cat. My motivation just wasn’t up to par and I could not get it together. I feel ashamed about that. The thing is, while Shiva isn’t perfect (hahahahahaha!) she is much easier to live with. It’s easier for me these days to manage her poor behaviours instead of fix them. But perhaps our teamwork, something I once so prized, as slipped a little and I am afraid it might just get worse. I am a firm believer in lifestyle training, in that you train for what works best for you. Since I don’t mind when Shiva jumps on me, I don’t worry about training that too much. But I strongly dislike when she barks out the window as pedestrians so it is something I work on a lot more. We all have different priorities. Irritation is motivation, as they say.

    So, that being said, as an obliger, I am hoping a little external pressure will do me and my pets good and be the kick in the butt I need. I’d also be honoured to co-host, if you are still looking. 🙂

    • Yay! You’re in. I can’t wait to see what you decide to work on. You always come up with something clever (not that I’m putting any pressure on you to be entertaining). 🙂

      Linda from Alfie’s Blog has signed on to co-host and if you’d like to sign on too, I’m happy to have you. I’ll send you a badge and linky after Christmas.

      • I know exactly what I am going to work on as well. The subject matter is a little dull but I am sure it will provide interesting enough blog fodder! 😉

        I’d love to join you and Alfie. My hope is that if I laden myself with obligations I will have to see it through.

  13. Heck yeah, we’re joining! Nola has her first Rally trial March 2nd, and we’re perfecting everything as well as learning the finishes and such. I’d also like to teach her to heel while walking between my legs, but that’s not a top priority.

    I think how well your dog is trained depends on both your needs as well as the dog itself. I have four dogs. They all know the basics, because that’s non-negotioable, but Nola is the only one whose training goes above and beyond that. Nola TRIVES on training and loves to learn, so we’re always doing new things and adding to her cue list.
    For me, Nola needs to be good with new places and be good with traveling. She needs to stay close to me, have a solid recall, not pull, ect. She has to have a good stay, and a flawless watch me, so I can photograph her. I don’t require her to be a friendly, loves everyone dog. That’s not in her nature, and frankly I don’t like sharing her. :p She’s confident and non-aggressive, but she just isn’t a dog who enjoys people outside the family.

    Nola’s Mom

  14. Most of the training that I do with Bunny involves safety issues. For example, “leave it” is extremely important in the nursing home setting. If there are pills on the floor, that’s very dangerous, so that’s one of those commands that shall not be ignored. We also have some basic obedience commands that we use both in the nursing home, when we go out in public and when we do photography. When Küster was a little, the first command my husband taught him was “on it” and it first involved him putting his front feet on it an object and then moved to include his back feet. Now that we’re visiting more hospice patients, I’m wishing Bunny knew that trick, because she’s too big for me to pick up for people who are in beds and often they can’t reach over far enough to touch her. Bunny also has a Greyhound friend on Flickr and Facebook who has some fantastic modeling tricks, like “ears up” and “sit up” that make for some stunner shots.

    Your challenge is very timely for me. I have been wanting to start clicker training with Flattery in the worst way, but it keeps getting put off. I want her to be able to do all those things and she’s really young, so she could be doing them for a long time. So, my goals are to introduce the clicker with Flattery and start working on basic commands with her like “sit” and “down” and to work with Bunny on a command to put her front feet up on something so she can be a better hospice visitor.

  15. since most of my training issues are behavioral, I don’t know that I could judge when is enough. I’m continually taking things to the next level with each dog, only because it’s the next step. But I do agree about the work bonding friendship. That’s when my bond with the dogs really gets down to business.

    I would be interested in doing the Training Month. I’m hoping by then we’ll be able to sled and can really start to get down our commands. I’ve been really loose with them and I’d like to sharpen them up.

  16. Well….I don’t think I am quite where you are yet with my two Brittanys ….they do a lot of things right, but we are still out there on the loose leash walk….practice practice practice 🙂

  17. My mom just came to this conclusion with her dog Luke recently. He is a very good dog at home and with company (once introduced) but he has dog anxiety with dogs he does not know that comes off as aggression. After over a year of going to classes to try to “fix” it, where she ended up more stressed and worried than anything else, she has decided it no longer needs fixing, because really, the only place he was running into other dogs – was at class.

    As for the train your dog month challenge, I’m opting out on this one. It seems I always find time to work with the dogs and walk the dogs and play with the dogs and blog about the dogs, but I’ve realized, lately, I’ve not had much time for ME. So that is what I’m going to work on a little more come the New Year. Right now I’m just trying to get thru Christmas! 🙂

  18. Well, we’re all about Resolutions this year. Our new Hop (Resolve to Move Your Mutt) is about ‘moving’ with your mutt – exercise, fitness, and all that – so I don’t think it counts as training, and Jack could use some training – first goal is recall…so I’m in.

  19. I think it sounds like a brilliant idea!! I would love to learn a new trick to teach Mity and BD – although I feel that might be more work for you!

  20. We would love to joint the challenge and we are interested in hosting this on our blog, too.

    Princess is still a puppy so she needs to learn a lot of commands still. Nessie has had previous training but she’s still terrified of men and doesn’t listen when there’s men close by, even my husband.


  1. […] thing we’re going to work on is some training since January is Train Your Dog Month and Something Wagging This Way Comes has issued a challenge.  I want to teach Bunny a specific trick that Küster uses to help us with […]