My dog and I are looking forward to a Wonderful New Year!! With new clients and exciting projects ahead, this year seems set to be a lot of fun… Of course, without setting the stage for these new adventures, they could not go from ideas to actuality – and it is the importance of preparation that I would like to say something about… Foundations are Fundamental…and tedious!! Of course I am going to talk about our dogs – after all, that’s what I do…and as so many people ask me about “dog whispering” I want to explain a little about the “magic”. A good dog trainer understands the necessity of small, simple steps and many repetitions before achieving any kind of solid performance. As we start this New Year with our resolutions and renewed enthusiasms it seems appropriate to talk a little about how we achieve these goals.
The “sit” that we all think of as the first milestone of training can be taught with food rewards and a verbal cue but must be repeated again and again. People often tell me that their dog’s training is coming along well because “Buddy” can “sit” already. BUT we also do not take into consideration the amount of preparation work that has already taken place. You have taught Buddy to respond to his name, you have shown Buddy that you are the source of cuddles and dinner. You have associated Buddy with your house as his “home” and your family as his “pack” and you have asked him for enough eye contact to have him follow your hand as it holds the treat. This is all fundamental work, and you are doing it. The next step then, must be achieved with the same amount of attention. Learning to walk nicely at heel or not counter surfing also has to be taught, patiently. Without the benefit of a speech center, our dogs must rely on our clear communication about what it is we require of them and then these requests must be repeated – many times! It is not enough to have your dog perform a command once or twice –at home-in the quiet-with a piece of bacon under his nose. We will have to ask for this action many times, with or without a treat, in a noisy room, over a period of time, when he is distracted and without becoming impatient. This is the hard work but be sure that without it, you will never have a consistently reliable response to your “question” and consequently will not have “:trained” your dog to do the most simple task reliably. All professional piano players do scales every day.
In our culture at this time, we are getting our results so fast that it is hard to remember that the basis of any endeavor is still some slow, steady foundation building and if we skip these early steps with our dogs or in our lives, we are losing the ground beneath us. So first decide where you want to go, make a plan to get there and be prepared for some failures along with the bright spots. Every journey begins with one small step so whether it is to exercise more, start a new job, or change our attitude about something, all of these objectives must begin with that first step and then some practice.
Achieving a more successful relationship with your dog is based on the same principles. Have a happy and prosperous New Year and I’ll see you around and about with your “connected” canine pals.
– Janine Lazarus. LBSPY #61. January 2015.