For many, the  term “dog training” has become synonymous with parlor tricks: Sit, stay, roll over, shake, play dead, hand me a beer… They’re fun and they can definitely be part of any training program. Who doesn’t want to impress their friends — especially dogless ones who are always bragging about how smart their kids are — with a repertoire of impressive behaviors? Pooping or peeing on cue, in particular, will inspire envy from anyone with a child that hasn’t yet been toilet trained or who can always be depended on to have to go potty 5 minutes into any car trip.

But training is so much more. It is essential to:

  • Safety. You may think your dog would never run into traffic — until she does, at which point it’s too late to wish you had trained her to respond immediately to a recall. And if your dog bites a stranger or two, he might be confiscated from you and euthanized.
  • Communication. The goal of good training is to let your dog know what you expect from him — and vice versa. The better you understand each other’s signals,  the deeper, and the more deeply rewarding, your relationship will be.
  • Friend maintenance. You might not care about your dog’s bad dinner manners, but others won’t necessarily appreciate your pup jumping up on the table and grazing from their plates. (Of course, depending on your cooking skills, your dog may be appreciated under the table, performing the classic function of dispatching unsuccessful culinary efforts.)
  • Happiness. Yes, that’s a big burden to put on any activity, but for a dog that lives in fear — and that includes many who behave aggressively — training can ease the sense that the world is a great, big threatening place. We humans know the world is a great big threatening place but when our dogs are happier, we’re happier. And that’s a lot.

I’ll get to Frankie’s specific training goals, and the ways we’re working towards them, next time.

16 thoughts on “Training Tuesday: What Is Dog Training For, Anyway?”

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    1. Thanks, Eric. That’s especially flattering coming from someone so involved with — and respected in — the dog training world.

  2. Happiness. So true. Without training fearful Sadie, I’m afraid, would be sunk. We still hit rough patches, but having a collection of behaviors on cue helps a lot in situations in which Sadie feels uncertain or afraid. Good luck! Can’t wait to hear about your adventures.

  3. I tell people all the time that dog training is much more about communication than it is “control.” It’s essentially a systematic way to nurture your relationship with your dog. It really is fun to realized that you both understand each other.

    1. Thanks, Roxanne. It’s easy to see from your descriptions of your interactions with Lilly that that’s your philosophy.

  4. I enjoyed your examples here, especially the safety and friend maintenance items. The whole dog off leash thing really makes me crazy from a safety pov.

    I will be interested to hear what sort of training is devised to combat habits like that recent humiliation suffered by Charles. I can’t believe I’ve gone through all the dogs I’ve had and have not had one with this problem. It will be fun to follow Frankie and his training triumphs!

    1. Frankie’s behavior towards Charles came as a complete surprise! The only time he exhibited that behavior previously was with a very cute dachsund who had been in heat when he first met her. Who could blame him?

  5. Learning or training with your dog brings the relationship to a whole new level.

    As far as a dog biting another person or another animal, it can become a nightmare that never ends. If a dog bites someone then there could be a civil suit. Dog bites can cause severe infection and even from a single puncture wound, a person can spend several days in a hospital with an intravenous picc line for antibiotics, forget it if there are torn tendons or worse. It can be very expensive. Some breeds are almost impossible to insure. The dog could be delclared vicious by the court. If the dog is declared vicious even in the yard the dog must be kept in an enclosed cage (does not matter if there is a fence). The dog always has to be confined or restrained. Animal control can make surprise inspections. Depending on the breed it could be put down just from a single event.

    I have one dog that is agressive towards other dogs and she already killed a neighbors dog. And even though my dog was on a leash and the other was running free my neighbor was still devistated. I feel terrible about it and it really strains everyone around.

    Dog bites are a real nasty business and if anyone has an aggressive dog and does not train them: is playing russian roulette. Take it from my experience.

    1. Don, that’s a terrible story. What did you do to train your dog? It sound like a more advanced case, maybe for a behaviorist and medication?

      1. So far it seems to be the same training as everyone else. Try to keep her safe from her triggers. Positive motivation, keep her away from other dogs, use a muzzle when letting her go off leash or if she has to be around other dogs.

        I dont think that type of aggression never really leaves and is always lurking in the background.

        Introducing her to other dogs can be done to a certain extent. When we got her from a rescue we kept her in another room away from our other dog. We did not let them see each other, the could only smell the scent.
        Once the dogs stopped reacting to the other dogs scent is when we introduced them. It took about two months.
        They have had a couple of fights, (mostly our fault) over a high value item
        Luckly my boy dog is about 170 lbs and she is only 110 lbs so he was able to hold her off. Other then a property fight, they get along well, sleep together, play etc.

        She is a great dog and we love her and would not trade her for anything.

        Basically just wanted to warn others about dog bites and how serious it can get. I hate to see dogs put down and owners get into trouble that can be avoided with help and knowledge.

        1. Thanks for clarifying; it sounds like you are being careful. I was just reacting viscerally to the fact that she killed another dog. And I honestly don’t know if that type of aggression leaves but would welcome the input of those who do know.

          1. Again I caution that agression like that should never be tempted and thinking it may leave is a danger. Even if it happened three years ago or yesterday, keep the dog safe and dont tempt fate.

            My feeling is even if someone says “oh you can change your dog and it will never have aggression issues again”.

            I would not do it.

            OK Thats my last two cents!!

          2. My turn to clarify: You’re absolutely right about dogs not changing, even with careful training. I was thinking that medication, perhaps combined with behavior modification, might work. Dr. Nicholas Dodman writes a great deal about the benefits that medication can provide to dogs with severe behavioral problems. Which makes sense. Dogs have glitches in brain chemistry, just as humans do.

  6. I have to admit, I thought that one of my dogs just wasn’t that smart. I would try to teach her tricks and she would have a rather difficult time picking them up, while my little terrier would pick them up no problem… and then do them backwards and upside down.

    Turns out my “not so smart” dog is doing FAB with practical “tricks.” I’m not sure if she’ll ever roll over, but she is great at “go to your mat,” “go over there,” “walk around the chair” stuff. Good fun!

  7. Great list. We’d be happy if our dogs would stop pulling on the leash … we’re going back to “no pull” harness … or if Buster would stop going after people/dogs when Amy’s walking him, but not when I do. Anyway, looks like this will be a wonderful series.

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