How Well Should I Train My Dog?

Posted on March 23rd, 2012 by FetchMasters in Positive Dog Training

When a client asks me how far I think they should take their dog’s training, I find myself in a slightly awkward situation. On the one hand, I am a dog trainer and have some well thought out reasons for giving dogs as much training as they can handle. On the other hand, I am a business man and offer several sequential training packages designed to take a raw/green dog and bring him all the way to off-leash reliability.

To make matters more complicated, I also recommend dogs be given some sort of specialty training (i.e. such as agility, nose work, flyball, treibball, hunting, etc…) — some of which I offer, some of which I refer out.

When I tell a client how much training I think their dog should have, I always do my best to explain my reasoning and let the chips fall where they may. That reasoning is as follows:

The basics generally are not enough.

After basic obedience training, a dog typically understands sit, down, stay, come, leave-it, loose-leash walking, etc. However, that doesn’t mean he can perform under heavy, real-world distractions. True, some clients rarely take their dogs out into the world, and they are happy if the dog can simply obey in the home. But … is the dog happy and fulfilled? Depending on the dog’s breed, age and temperament, a number of factors can negatively impact a dog: lack of exercise, boredom, and natural drives not being fulfilled (for example: retrieving, herding and hunting). Most dogs need more than a home-bound life and a limited education.

Dogs blossom with advanced training.

When dogs undergo more advanced obedience training, they learn to perform under distraction. But just as importantly, they also learn to be more owner-centric — that is, they learn to focus on their owners in contexts which previously completely absorbed their attention. I find that dogs who complete an advanced obedience course generally become even sharper indoors, as the lower level of distraction is a breeze for them.

Specialty training sometimes nurtures a different flavor of relationship.

I’ve come to understand that people who train their dogs in specialized skills often experience a somewhat different flavor of bonding than those who stop training after the basics. I believe this is because of three factors: 1) The owner learns a lot more about nature of his dog; 2) The dog learns to follow the owner’s lead regardless of environmental context; and 3) I believe a very ancient, but largely inert, tendency towards cooperation arises within the dog. Some wild canines hunt cooperatively; even feral dogs supposedly cannot do this. But, in my experience, a more keen psychological interactivity seems to arise between highly trained dogs and their people.

So, there you have it. I think you should train your dog A LOT. In fact, I’d recommend never stopping.