The Big Picture

The general consensus is that if we get it all done quickly and efficiently the end result will be a lot better. That if we spend a few months cramming in all they need to know, that they will be the smartest pooch on the block. Yes, that is the consensus of many new puppy parents. The more we train them the better they will be but getting to the end of the journey is not that simple.


Actually, getting to the end of the journey for some dog enthusiasts can leave them high and dry. While dogs and their people can always learn new and interesting activities, techniques and skills, there may come a time when the only way to invest more time in training your dog is to get another dog!


Over-training a young pup, or a newly acquired adult dog, may lead to the opposite of your intent. Of course, spending time with the health and education of your dog is extremely important and putting time for early training should be marked in pen onto your calendar, but it doesn’t guarantee the results you are seeking. In fact, it can be the downfall of your dog, and also of the bond you have with your dog if they are drilled and drilled on obedience exercises at an early age. The amount of training we put into our pups does not always equal the amount of skill your dog will have in the end.


In order to break it down, we should examine the big picture. The big picture is what you should consider when taking on the task of getting your puppy trained. First things first. When you first get your pup home, he will need to learn about household rules. He will need to learn the toilet is on the outside of the house, that meal times is when he will be tucked into his crate and that chasing the cat will lead to a time out. He will learn to trust his surroundings, trust his people and trust that his people will introduce him to dogs and people they trust. His confidence will be developing and there is still joy in his body.


It is great to teach your pup at this early age how to sit, lie down, shake a paw and how to walk on his leash. The issue is not the training, but in the methods used and the duration and intensity of the training sessions. The big picture should start with your pup getting a general idea overview of the exercise. Teach him to sit and reward him for his attempts as well as his success. This will show him that trying is part of the game, and that should encourage him to enjoy the process of learning something new. Once he is sitting fairly reliably, you might increase the criteria and ask that he sit beside you. At first he will get his reward (praise, toy or treat) for sitting in general, and then he will get his reward only if he sits on your left side.


Why not have him sit on your left in the first place? That is a good question and again it can be a matter of the manner in which your pup is taught. If he is always unsuccessful, and never rewarded for just a general sit, he will get discouraged. Just like children, dogs seem to feel when they are not quite good enough.


Lets look at the word “come”. That is a particular favorite of our clients. By favorite, I mean that is the class that everyone looks forward to. They sit on the edge of their seats and hang onto every word of the trainer, because their goal is to give their dog some freedom and that means he needs to come back in a reliable fashion. When pet owners teach the word come, they often add the word sit once the dog is in front of them. Great idea, as this gives a bit of breathing room to attach a leash or to release your dog to go back and play with his buddies. The big picture is that your dog is coming when called. Celebrate that first. Often the downfall of this word comes once the dog has learned to sit in front, but now you feel it is not close enough or straight enough. This is when the smaller details can be piled on too fast or too strict.


If your dog comes when called, but is always told to “sit straight” or dragged the last foot by his collar so he is at your feet, the fall out of this will be that your dog wont come to you as fast or as joyful. Dogs that compete in competitive obedience often get the recall done and done well, but is that enough? To have your dog trot over and sit in front of you with his head hung low is not necessary. Dog that come bounding over to you and sit…yes, nice and straight, is an attainable goal if you reward for the behavior you want (speedy and enthusiastic) and keep your training sessions short and sweet. Let him know that he is good. Smile at him, tell him he is great, sitting straighter will get him his reward. You will soon see him up his own game and his sit will be straight.


Dog sport competitors want to start their pups off quickly, with their eventual goal in mind. That is a great idea, and getting your pup started on his career early on is fine. Keep in mind that there are lots of fun activities you can do with a pup that will help keep him motivated and happy during his formative months. Drilling the same things over and over again will (in most cases) not produce a performance dog.


Another example of the big picture Vs the details is the word “stay”. When you first ask your dog to stay, you can teach him that he should stay in the general area. This means he can lie down or sit, but he not should wander off. By rewarding for this action, you dog will feel successful. It can be tough on a young pup to not move a muscle. Once he has the general idea, you can then ask him for a sit/stay and reward only for the sit/stay. Reward him frequently for doing the right thing. If he lies down it doesn’t help to continue to go back to him and drag him up into a sit by his collar, all the time scowling at him.


While it looks like you are teaching him, in actual fact you are adding stress to a dog that has not fully comprehended the lesson. And this will become an escalating scene. You leave him in a sit, he lies down, you get annoyed, pull him into a sit and leave him to stay again. The stress levels for both get even higher and no one comes out the winner. After all, none of us can learn any skill all at once. To play golf you have to learn how to hold the club, swing it, swing it correctly, hit the ball, and hit the ball in the right place, at the right speed. If our golf coach asked us to do that all at the same time, before we had any success holding the club, it would sound silly. It would be even worse if our golf coach got upset that we didn’t do it all successfully and quickly before understanding the general idea.


It is understandable that we all want our dogs to be great, and to be great quickly, but good things come to those that wait. By teaching slowly but surely we have plenty of time to enjoy those baby steps. We have lots of time to work with our dogs and show them the skills needed. By adding details later, we will build up the bond. Our dogs will learn to trust us. One of the greatest things for me is to watch performance dogs and family pets. all doing the right thing, with their heads held high and joy in their bodies.

What is our rush to the finish line?


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