There are some perfect dogs out there. You may have seen them. Walking politely on leash, checking in with their handler or stopping what they are doing and immediately coming when called. In some cases, genetics may play a role. Lucky owner if that is the case. For the most part, that perfect dog is the result of an incredible investment in time, effort and dedication in building the relationship and investing in the training to make the perfection seem effortless. Just like the smoothness of a duck gliding across the water belies the effort happening below the surface.
So many things go into the 'Perfect Dog'. There are no short cuts. Hard work, training and practice. So much practice in lots of different places. Persistence to work through those inevitable plateaus.
This is a question I get a lot. My answer is always a resounding ‘Yes’, but there must be rules for the game. One of my dogs loves a good game of tug. She is also very vocal. She will growl and bark, all in the spirit of the game. This just adds to her enjoyment. She has her special tug toy which she runs and gets if she thinks we are up for the game. If she gets a bit over aroused the game stops, so she learns to keep things in check. Tug is an excellent impulse control game. I don’t recommend playing tug with puppies for two reasons. Firstly, they haven’t got their adult teeth yet so we don’t want to hurt their mouth and secondly, they are still working on impulse control so they won’t understand the rules until they are a bit older.
Don't believe me, check out this excerpt from Pat Miller's book "Play with Your Dog".
"The game of Tug has an undeserved bad rap in some training circles, while others, most notably the Agility world, have fully embraced it as an excellent activity to create focus and high arousal. Those two extremes aside, it's a great game just because it's fun, many dogs adore it, it's the perfect play activity for human family members who might otherwise want to get in appropriately physical with the dog and it's a terrific energy-burner.
Suzanne Clothier has this great quote, “If you are hanging on to your dog’s body, it’s because you’ve lost his mind”. I love this quote because it is transferrable to so many aspects of dog training. Can you say that your dog is well-trained if they only listen to you when they are attached to you? If they sit when you tug on their leash or put pressure on their hind end or get them to stop pulling because you give them a leash correction. Are they trained or are they complying because they want to avoid the pain of a correction? You might argue that they are trained because they are doing what you ask of them and you may be right. The real test is when there is no leash or when your dog is too far away to physically correct. Then what? Are they still trained? It is more difficult to argue that they are is this scenario.
For me, the sign of a well-trained dog is a dog that listens to me. He doesn’t have to be engaged with me all the time, but when I say his name he looks to me seeking further instructions. This can only come through training that builds a relationship. I don’t want or need my dogs to be perfect. I love my dogs for who they are and want them to be dogs. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t rules and boundaries. Instead of being a dictator, I prefer to be the benevolent leader. Coaching and guiding them. If my dogs aren’t responding to me, it is not their fault. The fault resides with me.
Calgarians love their dog parks and we are lucky to have lots of them in the city. No question that time at the dog park can provide your pup with unadulterated joy, lots of exercise and a chance to romp unencumbered by leashes with their doggie friends. As a trainer, I have mixed feelings about off-leash parks. Following are my ‘Top 10’ recommendations for a fun time at the dog park.
1. Different dogs have different play styles. We all know the dog that likes to body slam, or the one that will play fetch for hours and some dogs are just happy to enjoy a stroll in the park with you and barely acknowledge other dogs. Different play styles are normal. Dogs with similar play styles will have a blast, but if your dog prefers a stroll and the other dog wants to wrestle, it is not going to be a fun experience. Watch the interactions between dogs. When they take a break, if both dogs go back into play, it is usually okay. However, if one dog wants to get away, it is an indicator that the other dog is not his ideal playmate.
Do you have a new family member? When a new puppy is added to the family it is a big change for everyone. Not only are you dealing with the house training and the chewing and all the other very normal puppy behaviours but there is also the training. Those cute puppy behaviours quickly wear out their welcome as the puppy grows to full size. Training is essential to instill the manners that will make your puppy a good member of society. The better your dog's manners, the more places your puppy will be welcome. In addition to the basic obedience, it is incredibly important to socialize your puppy so that your pup is comfortable in lots of different situations.
What do dog trainers mean by socialization? In the very simplest of terms, it means exposing your puppy to as many things as possible is a very positive way while they are in their critical socialization window. The canine socialization window closes at about 4 months of age. So when you think about it, if you get your puppy between 8-12 weeks of age and then your vet will advise you to limit your puppy’s activities until they have received the two sets of vaccinations, the remaining window to socialize is very short.
What if you don’t socialize? The absolute primary reasons dog trainers stress socialization is to ensure your puppy grows up into a well-adjusted adult dog. The more your puppy is exposed to new things when they are young the less chance they will develop fearful behaviour of new things as they get older. If a dog is fearful of something, you will often see reactive and/or aggressive behaviour as a result. Working through fearful behaviour requires a lot of patience and time. The renowned dog trainer Dr. Ian Dunbar has been very vocal in saying the risk of future behaviour issues as a result of poor socialization outweighs the risk of exposure to disease. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour (AVSAB) has also issued position papers on the topic.