Dog’s Eye View: The family that plays together stays together
February 16, 2017
I believe dog training or behavior modification requires total teamwork. Success does not happen without family participation. When you stop and think about it, most behavior problems begin when management and training stop. The puppy is so cute and smart that we assume she doesn't need training. As she gets older and begins to mature, however, you can reasonably compare her behavior to that of a budding teenager. By then, you are playing catch up and must fix the behavior that is broken or grown completely out of control.
Using a human comparison, there is a reason we start school with kindergarten. The foundation is being set for continuous learning. Foundation training initiates communication and sets expectations. The human expects the puppy will learn to chew on her own toys, to signal someone when she needs to go outside and to respect space. The puppy expects she will be cared for, fed and entertained. The family creates a plan for how each person can begin to teach those necessary skills.
If training doesn't begin and continue through puppyhood, when those "teenage" hormones and immature brain development take over, you are set with the task of behavior modification. The bad behavior has become a habit, and, as we all know, habits are difficult to change. Both the family and the dog have led to this gridlock. Without intervention, the relationship will fail. As I have said in previous columns, most dogs relinquished to animal shelters fall into this age category for deteriorating behavior.
As a dog trainer and behavior consultant, I see this scenario play out in many ways. I wouldn't do this work if I didn't love dogs and love people. In striving for success in each family, I am grateful for that phone call for help. More often than not, simple management strategies and remedial training will start things off on the right path again.
School is back in session, and if everyone plays a part and helps maintain the changes necessary for consistent improvement, success is bound to happen. Teamwork is the hallmark for success. Continuing education and management for your adolescent dog will help all to survive this trying time.
Training never ends. Just like those of us who keep reading and learning and experiencing life in different ways, our dogs need that continuing communication and training to keep their minds sharp and healthy.
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As my 11-year-old rat terrier ages, we continue to learn new tricks, practice old ones, enjoy training together and share a bond filled with understanding and love, and yes, I do believe she loves me. She seeks me out and is ready for any adventure on the agenda, even if it's staying in the car during my consultation visits. We always find time for her favorite sniffing walk, and she often shares lunch with me in the park. We each have an expectation of the other.
Through the years, Skippy has become quite comfortable as my traveling companion, and I make sure she has what she needs to stay comfortable and safe. We understand each other's expectations and have a trust bond that is a result of our years of training, communication and respect.
Just as a child changes our life forever, we bring special dogs into our lives who need our lifelong nurturing and count on us to keep their brains and bodies healthy. We play together and stay together.
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 and is a certified Nose Work instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.