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Dog’s Eye View: Incorporating dog training into everyday life

Dog's Eye View Laura Tyler

I have been meeting with a few other dog trainers to create a focus group and preview a new class. Several years ago, Sandra Kruczek and I taught a City Dog class, in which we reviewed basic skills in the classroom, then took our training into town. We are now working with new ideas to freshen up the program. We know more now, so I think our old class has been on the shelf for too long.

In our first group session, we ran through the basics commands of come, sit, down, stay and loose leash walking. Skippy will be 12 years old this fall, so I decided I'd put her through the paces. With the years of continuous training, she fell in step with each exercise. The time put into her steady training has made it easy for her to respond to hand signals and verbal cues for each of these basic behaviors. In fact, these basic behaviors are a part of our daily conversations. We have created a habit, and that habit is part of our life now. This is where some relationships begin to fall apart. If we think training is done when the class is over, that is a big mistake. We must incorporate training into our everyday life with our dog. That is the only way to extend the shelf life. Our trainer skills need as much nurturing as our dogs' behavior.

We all know training at home is relatively easy. It's the real-world training that takes extra effort. Outside distractions can overpower compliance, and a well-run group class introduces distractions from the start. It's our homework time that builds the reliability of the exercises we are teaching.

Practicing at home in the most familiar and predictable environment is the best place to start building that compliance. If you don't practice at home, you certainly haven't earned your dogs' obedience in public. Building distraction training takes time and many successful repetitions in a variety of environments.

During the first few weeks of our classes, we use visual barriers to help break eye contact while our family dogs are learning to pay attention to their person in the presence of other dogs. Through the course of several weeks, the dogs learn to accept proximity to other dogs, noise and laughter of people in the classroom and all the yummy treat smells that can drive a dog crazy.

It's obvious each week which students practice at home. You can't lie to your dog. The work at home makes it easier for the dog to adapt to the classroom environment. Unless you practice at home, it's like starting over every week. Without owner training, the pressure of city life can become daunting for the dog. They don't know what to do, and your expectations can't be met.

A training class is only the beginning. Unless you incorporate the training you start into your daily conversations with your dog, it won't last. If you want a well-behaved dog in a public setting, introduce distractions at a level your dog can handle and still be successful. Then, slowly add new distractions. Don't throw your dog in the deep end of the pool to teach him to swim.

Maybe I'm just a geek, but I think training is fun. My dogs do too. Because of that, I have control in the park and on the trail. I have a conversation and relationship that supersedes the environment … unless it's a squirrel. We're still working on that one. Without a good connection between you and your teammate, training suffers. Keep it on the shelf too long and it will wither past the expiration date. With consistent goals and training, your dog can become a city dog, too.

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience. She has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, as well as Certified Nose Work Instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.