Whether you want to train your pup to be a show day rosette winner or just make walkies more enjoyable – help is at hand.
Dogs young and old can be taught new tricks with a little time and patience. That means even those owners with hectic lifestyles or in separated families where time together is limited can enjoy quality dog time.
Hope Merrick had been involved in training antelopes and giraffes at a safari park before she started training dogs. Now Go Fetch, her business in North Derbyshire, is teaching clients the basics from the ground up.
Training should be individual to the dog and the owner and focussed on the behaviour that’s required. For instance, some people don’t want their dog to jump up at anyone. Others quite like him or her coming up for a cuddle. Everyone has different preferences.
Training is also beneficial for an owner’s relationship with their dog. The sessions together are good bonding time, so should be enjoyable and rewarding, rather than a cause of stress.
Here, Hope gives Merrick Life some pointers to a commonsense approach to dog training:
Don’t sit down one day and say ‘I want my dog to walk perfectly to heel, as though we’re at Crufts and I have an hour a day to achieve that’. You’ll get there eventually, but realistically how much joy are you going to get from your dog being able to do that?
If the problem is your dog is dragging you down the street then let’s aim for loose lead walking. Let’s aim for something that’s not necessarily competition worthy, but it’s what you need in your lifestyle.
If you work full-time and the dog is cared for by a sitter or walker most of the week and you only have half an hour in the evening then that’s the time you have to work with.
In the long term if you are doing short stints over a long period that’s better because you are building up that communication with your dog. The dog is learning things like focus, impulse control and what your tone of voice means.
If you do long sessions over an hour then the dog will likely lose interest. The learning may be watered down, so short sweet sessions are better anyway.
Rather than feeding extra treats as rewards for every right command, use a handful of their breakfast or dinner. This way you avoid incurring those extra calorie intakes.
Your dog will pile on the pounds quite quickly if they’re having a full dinner and then half an hour of training with treats. So if they’re on biscuits just take a handful from what they would be having anyway.
It is managing what is healthy for the dog. You are also extending the feeding period rather than having a mealtime where you put the food down on the floor and then have no interaction with them. You are getting a whole lot more out of the process.
It’s more difficult for people who work full-time or are in separated households where the dog may spend half their time with another person. Communicate the training across everybody who’s looking after that dog.
If you’re setting rules in one part of the day and then they go off with someone else they may get something completely different. That’s really going to slow the pace of training. Make sure you’re all using the same command words and tone of voice to avoid confusion.
When you practice tricks the dog already knows, you’re teaching the dog and showing them that different tones of voice means different things. Automatically when you’re giving praise you use a higher pitch. When a dog hears that it means ‘yes you’ve done something right and you’re going to get some kind of reward’, whether it’s a fuss, hug or treats.
A deeper, louder tone of voice will mean ‘no that’s not right, let’s try again’.
Try not to compare yourself to what’s going on elsewhere. If you see people walking their well-behaved dog down the street don’t think ‘how come your dog is doing that when mine’s really naughty?’
If your dog can do a lovely sit, then great, give him or her loads of praise for that. Focus on things that are really positive.
There are going to be things you have to work on. Having a dog takes a lot of time and energy to get it to fit in with your lifestyle commitment. That being said they are a source of joy. Owning a dog is such a lovely experience and they are part of the family. Try not to focus on the negatives because you’ll end up not enjoying the dog as much as you should.