Most of my clients have heard me say that every dog is different and even though there are many tried and true techniques for training a dog or changing a behavior, we have to adapt them to the individual. This can be a challenge when working with certain dogs, but it also means that we learn something new from every dog we work with. And we learn even more from each dog we have the privilege of owning.
Today is Dan’s 2nd birthday and in light of the occasion, I wanted to share some of the challenges we have worked through together and some of the things Dan has taught me as a trainer and as a pet owner.
The first few months of owning Dan were pretty rough. Don’t get me wrong – he was a super cute, hilarious little puppy and we had lots of fun too. He is so smart and watching him work through problems is probably one of my favorite things to do. But he was a difficult puppy to raise and we were in a difficult environment.
Dan has always been very reactive to new things and living in a downtown apartment as a puppy and adolescent did not help this behavior. When he was just 5 months old, he would bark at everything – people, squirrels, dogs, motorcycles; anything new or different looking. We work hard with him every day, with every experience he has, and it is slowly paying off. (I won’t lie, moving into a house with his own yard has helped tremendously!)
Here are some of the major things Dan has accomplished over the last year:
- When someone comes to the door, he now goes to his bed and lies down. We allow him to bark until we tell him to stop. He can stay while people walk in the door and he is a little calmer when he greets them.
- He can quietly watch people walk past our house, as long as they do not have a dog with them.
- He can walk nicely on a loose leash with no distractions.
- He can walk nicely on a loose leash when going out the front door and hanging out in our front yard. He can even walk a few houses down the sidewalk without pulling or sniffing.
- He is happy to lounge with us when we are relaxing; he can recognize playtime vs. lounge time.
- He will not bark at the neighbor dog through the fence when reminded to “leave it”, even if the other dog is barking at him.
- We got through an entire vet visit without any barking or growling at noise of other dogs.
- He has made four new doggie friends – two of which came to his house!
- He has learned lots of tricks and is much more focused on me in general – training time or otherwise.
All of these things are fairly common expectations for a pet dog, but they have been very challenging to teach Dan to do. He would much rather be impulsive, yank on a leash, bark at everything, and run around like a crazy man.
I feel very lucky to have Dan as our dog, and he amazes us every day. He has taught me so much about changing your expectations and goals to fit the dog you have. Here are some of the things I have gotten better at through working with Dan:
- Timing of my reward delivery – he has no patience for late treats!
- Choosing a reward to promote the type of behavior you are working towards. For example, using tug as a reward when you are working on calm behavior is not ideal for Dan.
- Being attentive of the environment to predict problematic stimuli and train appropriately.
- Observing and recognizing precursor behaviors to aggression, reactivity, and fear.
- Being patient in training.
- Understanding reactivity and aggression, having an arsenal of techniques for dealing with these problems, and choosing the right one for the dog, owner, and environment.
- Celebrating small victories like they are world championships.
Dan might not ever be my agility champion or competitive obedience rock star that I was looking for when we brought him home – although he loves practicing these activities at home and is quite good. What he is teaching me is much more valuable than that and will not only benefit the dogs we own in the future but is already benefiting the dogs my clients own.
Happy Birthday Dan! – I can’t wait to see what else you have to teach me in the years to come.