10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 1 – No Grey Areas

There are 10 important fundamental tips I use and teach to my clients that all  encourage the success of their dog(s) training program by making everything clear and consistent between you and your dog during the training phase.

What is the training phase? This is the part of your dog’s life that includes the rules and foundations of behaviors being set, and the length of time it takes them to learn this new behavior and follow through 90% of the time. This does not mean for life (unless warranted), but it definitely means for at least the next 6 months to a year (or longer if needed) while your dog is learning. For instance, Caleb (my 1 1/2 yr old German Shepherd) is still in the training phase on his obedience and tricks because now I am working on him following through without any hand or body signals, compliance now comes solely from my verbal cue.

So, I thought I would put together a short series of important tips (10 in total) everyone should remember when training their dog(s). These are the things I find myself telling each and every one of my clients at some point during their lessons with me. Each tip will come out in a different weekly blog so as not to overwhelm you with too much information at one time. I’m hoping this will also allow you to apply each step as you learn it allowing you to mold it into your current training program. I encourage you to challenge yourself, and apply all of these into your daily routines with your furry loved ones.

Week 1 Tip: Everything must be black and white, not grey

This theory is very important to help your dog succeed and teach them in a clear and concise manner. One of the ways we achieve this is making sure there are no grey areas to your dog’s training routines. What does this mean? This means that when you ask your dog to do something or when you set house rules, there are no exceptions, especially during the training phase.

doors

For instance, let’s say I want to teach Caleb to be patient at doorways (must sit still while door is opened before being released), I can not let him run through some doorways then yell at him when he doesn’t sit at another doorway. For example: Caleb would get very confused because he has been allowed to run through the back door but now he just got yelled at for running through the front door. To make it very clear to Caleb, he should be asked to sit at all doorways during the training phase so he understands clearly that this new rule applies to every doorway in the beginning. This rule is even applied for coming in from his outdoor kennel as shown below to make everything black and white regarding door manners for Caleb.

 

Another example would be the new rule of your dog not being allowed on the bed as part of your training plan. If I instill this rule, it means Caleb is not allowed on my bed at any time, not just when I don’t want him up there.  To be fair to Caleb, he should not be allowed on my bed at any point during the training phase. This does not mean Caleb will never be allowed on the bed again, it just means that at this point in his training, he must earn the reward of cuddling with me in bed by staying off of it until invited up which could take a while. No matter what kind of sad eyes Caleb gives me, or no matter how much I want to cuddle with him, I can not give in and invite him up because that would cause a grey area in the training. Then, the next day when Caleb jumps up on the bed on his own, it would be very unfair of me to yell at him because I have not made things black and white for him.

*Note: both of these examples can also fall into the consistency category (another tip in the series) as well.

 

Tails of a Working Dog Owner

Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds training and working.
Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds training and working.

With all the concerns going around social media regarding the movie Max, and how it will affect the Belgian Malinois breed, I thought I would share my story of owning a working dog.

I once believed that any dog could flourish in a home as long as there was clear direction, consistency and a balanced relationship between owner and dog. I believed that no matter the breed, it could be done by anyone. Over the past few months I have quickly realized that this can be quite a fantasy. I have shared my life and home with different breeds of shelter dogs, most mutts of unknown origins and they all lived well-balanced lives. Once I started my career in dog training and behavior, learning the facets that contribute to how dogs learn and develop, it became clear to me that dogs, much like humans, are pretty similar from one breed to the next. Several years later when I dipped into the world of dog rescue and became a dog foster mom I started feeling empathy for all these “unwanted” dogs. I would say, “If they just had an owner that taught them right from wrong from the very beginning.” “If they just had an owner who understood dogs they wouldn’t be here.” I truly believed that no matter the dog’s breed they could survive in any pet home as long as the simple rules of consistency were followed.

Today, my views have changed.

Caleb dressed up as a dinosaur for his first Halloween...I should have known he'd be a handful lol
Caleb dressed up as a dinosaur for his first Halloween…I should have known he’d be a handful lol

I am now the proud owner of a true “working dog” who drains me of my mental and physical energy on a daily basis. I am not stating this as a complaint but as a fact. I knew when I decided to purchase Caleb that I was purchasing a type of dogthat required daily mental stimulation, exercise and challenging activities to keep him out of trouble. I thought I could handle it with no problem being my background as a dog trainer, knowing the ins and outs of keeping dogs mentally and emotionally healthy. Well I am here to say that owning a working dog is not as easy as it looks and I now understand why so many dogs end up at the shelter, left in back yards, or worse, euthanized. Owning a working dog is a serious commitment that must be looked at with a completely open mind, and heart.

These dogs excel at so many activities because they are truly incredibly intelligent creatures. Their lineage comes from years and years of cross-breeding individual Border Collies workingdogs who each have the desire and drive to work to their maximum capability and then even further when asked. Take the border collies who have been bred to herd sheep. If you purchased a puppy from a breeder who has been breeding Border Collies to work a ranch 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you take that puppy home to your apartment in the city, work 8 hours a day and just take him for walks, you will soon have a monster on your hands because you are not allowing the dog to do what he is bred to do. You are essentially keeping a tiger caged.

And the movies and television shows we watch with the perfectly scripted characters of Lassie, Benji and Rin Tin Tin (to name a few) don’t help the general public understand the intensity some of these dogs require with daily training. And I’m sure my love and respect for the German Shepherd Dog stemmed from watching them star in movies like K-9, Rin Tin Tin and others. But we have to remember these dogs are trained to perform these acts and more than likely have a trainer behind the scenes that spends countless hours and minutes every day training them.

I am now the proud owner of an extremely intelligent German Shepherd from Belgium working lines. This means Caleb is the offspring of specific breedings to produce dogs  that will excel at Schutzhund, French Ring, PSA or any other Bite Work Trainingprotection work, obedience, search and rescue, agility, etc. With that said, the flip side is that these dogs typically do not flourish in a home with little stimulation. They must have regular opportunities to challenge themselves, learn new behaviors, fail at attempts and recover from those fails ready to try again. Your average “pet dog” does not have this same drive. They are quite content to sit at home until the family returns, have a play session, possibly a nightly walk, then sit down and relax as an entire family. A working dog reaches this point only after working.

A great example of this is something I have learned with Caleb and his desire to

This is Caleb's first time, since he was 9 weeks old, learning all about balance on a boogie board. He wants to learn to do this, I am not making him.
This is Caleb’s first time, since he was 9 weeks old, learning all about balance on a boogie board. He wants to learn to do this, I am not making him.

learn new things. If Caleb attempts something new, let’s say climbing a wall, and he falls off ultimately failing in his attempt, Caleb will actually pull me back to the very beginning and try it all over again on his own. He does not accept failure in his life. And when he does accomplish something that he considers to be a task we should all be proud of, like jumping up on to a high surface for the first time, he will bark a couple of times as if he is congratulating himself. I also find Caleb actively seeking out new obstacles, such as ladders or big boulders to climb, just to do it.

It may seem like I am bragging about my amazing dog but I am sharing because these are things one rarely encounter with a “pet” dog. These are occurrences that are typical for a working dog and I feel strongly in sharing that every person must thoroughly consider if they can provide a mentally rewarding home for such a dog.  If you’ve read my past blogs, or watched any YouTube videos, you have heard me say over and over how important mental stimulation is to any dog, it is absolutely critical for a working dog.

Please understand this blog is not to scare you away from owning a beautifully smart working dog, it is simply here to warn you to do your due diligence before deciding on what breed and breeder. I love Caleb with all my heart and he amazes me each and every day with his intelligence and bravery. He has learned more in these past 10 months than any of my previous dogs ever learned. I know I will have more fun with him than I ever expected simply because he will challenge me to think of new things to do with him, challenge me to learn new training techniques and games and challenge me to stay active and mentally healthy.

The Amazing Starmark Training Collar

If you’ve ever met with me to address your dog’s tendency to forge while on walks, you probably already know about the amazing Starmark Pro-Training Collar. Developed by Starmark several years ago, this collar has been a true life saver for many dogs and has been my go-to training collar for dogs of all sizes.

Starmark Pro-Training Collars

For those not familiar, let me tell you a little about this remarkable training tool. The Starmark collar is constructed of durable plastic that is comfortable for your dog to wear all day. The material makes it light weight yet quick to respond to leash pressure allowing a quick and painless correction to be given to your dog if needed. Starmark combined the martingale and prong collar to create this gentle tool allowing sensitive owners to communicate with their dogs should they be pulling.

Notice the proper snug fit of the collar around the dog's neck.
Notice the proper snug fit of the collar around the dog’s neck.

This collar works best when fit high on your dog’s neck and snug enough to not allow any rotation or slippage. The collar is made to be opened, then placed around your dog’s neck, then securely closed. It is NOT to be slipped over your dog’s head. Doing this can possibly cause harm to your dog’s eyes should they be scratched accidentally in the process as well as it leaves the collar sitting too loosely around the neck. The added benefit of this collar is the ability to add or remove links to make the collar fit your dog’s specific neck size. You don’t have that option with a lot of other training collars which makes this quite ideal in the dog training world. You can start using this collar on your young dog and simply add links as he grows and matures.

Transitioning your dog to a Starmark Martingale collar will allow you to give less corrections and protect your dog’s neck from constant pressure and/or stricture from other collars they pull in to like buckle or chain collars. Typically my clients see results within minutes of transitioning to this wonderful collar and are so pleased they are truly smiling by the end of the first lesson.

A snap is added to this Starmark to allow quick operation by the owner.
A snap is added to this Starmark to allow quick operation by the owner.

As I mention in the video (see link at bottom of page), this collar can be quite difficult for elderly or those with weak hands to open and close. Luckily there are a couple of companies, Pawmark being one, that have attached quick releases to the strap. I highly recommend you look for these specific collars to make your life easier should you fall into either of these categories. I also suggest you keep the collar one link too large while practicing putting the collar on your dog, especially if they have a longer coat, until you get the hang of it. Don’t worry, this usually takes only a few attempts! Once you’re comfortable with the process, remove that extra link and you are all set.

If you think your dog would benefit from this training collar, I strongly urge you to consult a knowledgeable dog trainer in your area to help you fit the collar and train your dog to walk on a loose leash with you. You can also “heel” on over to my YouTube channel to view my recent tutorial video on the Starmark collar including how to open and close the collar while on or off of your dog.