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?
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.
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 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.
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.
The 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.
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?