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Kuranda Dog Beds - Rethinking dog beds
Kuranda Dog Beds
— October 23, 2012 —

Do you really need to take your dog for training?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

If it’s small, young, old or “nice”, is training really necessary? In a word, yes. At Bark Avenue, we believe that pretty much every dog and every dog owner can benefit from a formal dog-training program.

There is a website I check out occasionally. Leerburg.com is a large retail site run by a guy named Ed Frawley. They sell training equipment, toys, videos, books and so on. I hesitate to send people to Ed’s site because he can be in a word, blunt. Also, while I agree with him in a few areas there are few areas where I see things differently. There’s an old saying, “Put any two dog trainers in a room and the only thing they’ll agree on is that the other one is wrong.” All differences aside, we can learn a lot from his site.

What I find most interesting and entertaining on his site is the question and answer section. He has questions from well intentioned folks who have behavioral issues and he tries to give advice and sell a few of his videos at the same time. He also has some questions from people who must have just fell off of a turnip truck. I read one from a lady who thought she should train her German Shepherd in German because he would understand it better…being that he’s German and all… Or the one from a guy who bought a German Shepherd for $150.00 and wanted advice on how to select a proper female for breeding. Ed’s profound, and very appropriate answer was (paraphrased), “Don’t breed your dog. You will be adding to the dog overpopulation problem.”

My point is that there are so many misconceptions that are passed around these days, so many pieces of bad advice that it’s impossible for the average dog owner to sort through it all. This is where the dog trainer comes in. A good, professional trainer will be able to help you wade through the mountains of misinformation and bad advise out there. I have personally witnessed well-intentioned people give extremely bad advice in the name of helping a fellow dog owner. When you get right down to it, the main reason we train our dogs is for their own good. A trained dog is more balanced, safer and happier. A well-trained dog is likely to have more freedom and a better quality of life.

We routinely field calls from owners of small and toy breeds that are neurotic and aggressive. When these owners bring their dogs in, they are usually being carried like children and pet constantly. They are often dressed in cute clothes and fancy jeweled collars and harnesses. Often the owners of small breeds get them to treat them like babies. This is a mistake. I have a saying, “Treating your dog like a kid is like treating a fish like a dog. It doesn’t work.” You cannot make a dog into a different species and trying to humanize any dog is a recipe for problem behavior. Another general idea about toy dogs is that they are harmless so training isn’t really necessary. Unfortunately for those dogs, they end up living years in a fearful, desperate state. Good training can help a toy dog cope with the world, while sheltering and coddling creates a weak-nerved paranoid dog. They are simply are not enjoying their lives. While it’s true that they aren’t generally as dangerous as an out of control large breed, they can and do bite. A trainer I knew years ago was fond of saying, “What would you prefer, 5 stitches from a Pomeranian or 5 stitches from a Pit Bull?” Either way, it’s 5 stitches.

There are special individuals who adopt older dogs. The idea that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks needs to be forgotten. Older dogs are learning things every day and are perfectly capable of being trained. The trick here is to start training immediately and set up a good, positive routine in the new home. If an older dog has learned bad behaviors from a previous living situation, the first thing he will do is try to recreate those conditions that he is used to. It’s much easier to teach a new routine from day one.

Of course, the best time to train a dog is when he is young and malleable. The first 4 or so months of a puppy’s life is the “imprinting” stage. This is the time to start training! A young dog is a sponge for information, and what they learn while they still have their puppy teeth is learned forever. You may be surprised at how fast you can teach an 8 week old puppy to “down” on command. During this period is where we like to expose the puppy to the sights and sounds that he will be exposed to in day to day life. The importance of training a young puppy cannot be over-emphasized.

Even the nicest, sweetest dog can benefit from training. I know of too many stories of dogs that were very friendly that fell victim to a dropped leash or a collar that popped open. Even responsible dog owners can have equipment failures. It is imperative that dogs be trained well enough to respond and recall in case equipment fails.

Finally, even if you have the easiest, nicest, most naturally obedient dog in the world there is another great reason to take your dog to training. Because it’s fun! I am currently working with a rescue Rottweiler right now named Gunnar. Now, Gunnar is not exactly that super easy dog that I was describing, but it’s amazing to watch him as he figures out that we are teaching him things. He has become a completely different dog since training started and I believe that he honestly enjoys his lessons. Training is enriching to dogs and adds to their enjoyment of life. If your dog does obedience great, what about a trick class, of teaching him nose work. A well tempered, trained dog can also work as a therapy dog. Your dog can visit patients in hospitals, nursing homes and rehab centers. Canine Therapy Corps is one local organization that we work with and reccommend. You and your dog can brighten someone’s day and help them get back on their feet. This is one of the most rewarding things any dog can do.

Once people complete any of my training programs, I always send them away with the same piece of advice. “Your training didn’t end today. Your training starts today.” You see, if you live with a dog you are his primary trainer. For better or worse, you are ultimately responsible for his behavior. A good training program should help you be the best trainer you can be.