The first step is recognizing the importance of training your dog. This makes them more manageable in all situations, helps keep them safe, and leads to a happier, well-adjusted pup with a stronger bond towards you. I once mentioned the homework we had been given in Luna’s first intermediate class – learn what your dog was bred for, and this is still some of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever been given. Once you know what your dog is more inclined to want to do naturally you can move on to the next step of finding out what kind of training will work best for you and your dog.
I recommend researching your local businesses to find a class that will suit your needs. While you can read books or websites to learn about training on your own, the on hand experience is immeasurable. My own research brought me to our local AKC training club, which I mostly chose because they offered training from the basics up to rally and agility. I never realized that it would also give me the opportunity to work with and meet with a wide variety of experienced dog handlers and trainers. Every trainer I have had has taught me something new, no matter how many times I attend a class.
No matter where you decide to go, or if you choose the on-your-own route, try to set aside some time every day to work with your dog, even if it is only for a few minutes. Luna attends class almost every week for two reasons, first it helps with her socialization with dogs and people and secondly, because she loves having a ‘job’. When we are not in class I work on basic commands such as “sit”, “down”, and “stand” several times throughout the day, particularly first thing in the morning and when I come home, and Luna knows there are no ‘free’ treats in our house! I also work with them during down times such as TV watching or waiting for pots to boil in the kitchen. Walks are also a great time to practice heeling and those same basics, and while I prefer to walk each of the dogs on their own, time doesn’t always permit me to give them that one on one attention.
Aside from the importance of time, I’ll just add a couple other tips to keep in mind as you start this journey. A few I wish someone would have told me long before Luna ever came in my life.
- Don’t try to learn ‘tricks’ before having the basics down. I made the mistake of teaching Luna “roll over” one afternoon when we were still starting out. She picked it up fast – and it took me weeks to get her to do “down” again without rolling over.
- Teach both verbal commands and hand signals whenever possible. Even if you don’t plan on advancing past having a well behaved dog you may be grateful if in their old age when they can no longer hear you they can still respond to your signals.
- Choose your commands carefully and teach everyone in the house to use the same one. Some people use “down” to get off the couch, while others use “off”. Either is fine as long as you stay consistent.
- "Stay" and "come" are the most important commands you can teach your dog – and may be lifesaving someday. Come should always be a happy exercise so they will respond to it, make it a party when they do, and never use it as a punishment.
- Master the basics that are often forgotten, like “leave it”, “drop it”, “wait”, and “watch”.
- Keep training fun and know that if you are getting frustrated it’s time for a break. Always end a session on a positive note and don’t be afraid to try something new.
Ella is mastering the difference between "sit", "beg", and "dance". "Dance" being her favorite go-to for treats. It was a pose she naturally took from day one, so we’re incorporating it into her ‘tricks’. She’s also learning stronger responses to hand signals.
Luna is working on tricks more than commands right now. She’s learning "perch" (placing her front paws on an object when standing) and being taught to fetch her toys in from outside as Ella can’t stop taking them all out the dog door. We are also working on walking backwards for advanced rally.
Together they are working on routines of "sit", "down", and "stay" they do at the same time. The goal is to get them to respond only to the command they have been given. Luna is a bit of a pro, but Ella is still learning to wait for her name to be called.
As for Boots, she is just enjoying the old age benefit of getting treats simply because everyone else is, although her down/stay is pretty much unbreakable.