Editorial April 2010 Issue

It Takes A Lot of Work

But a healthy, well-behaved dog is so worth it!

A neighborhood acquaintance recently asked me for training advice regarding her year-old mixed-breed dog, whose major sins are pulling on leash and jumping on people. She sounded like she was at the end of her rope with the dog. But after about the first minute of my recommendations, she interrupted me to comment, with dismay, “Oh my, you make it sound like so much work!”

“Argh! Seriously? What I’ve told you so far sounds like a lot of work?” I felt like shouting!

I didn’t say that, or shout, of course. I kept a smile on my face and, making a mental note to simplify my future advice, invited her to bring the dog over later in the day. I said I’d give her a training tool that would help with the pulling – either a front-clip harness or head halter – and show her how to fit and use it. And I left it at that.

For the rest of the morning, I stewed a bit about why so many dog owners (my neighbor is far from the first I’ve known) seem to think that training a dog should be fast an easy. Think about it: We expect an animal of a very different species from our own to live in our society (indeed, our homes) and follow all of our behavioral rules – and usually, without the benefit of a formal school education! We don’t even expect our own species to be civilized until about age 30!

Actually, now that I think about it, that sorts of works out, if you use the “seven dog years for each of ours” formula; that would mean a dog could be considered a responsible adult when he’s a bit more than four years old.

Ah well, there is simply no point in stewing. I plotted my next visit with my neighbor and her dog to make a maximum impression on them both. Seeing is believing.

Long story short, our next visit/harness fitting/training session went well, and my neighbor was impressed. With very little talking, and very fast and strategically served tidbits of hot dog, I was able to get the dog to sit attentively while I adjusted a front-clip harness to fit him. My neighbor couldn’t believe how calm and well-behaved her dog was for the process – and her disbelief seemed to increase her interest in learning how she could make him behave that way.

She was also shocked the first time the dog lunged for something and, with the front-clip harness, she was easily able to stop his lunge and turn his shoulders back toward her. Now she was grateful, as well as interested. It made me feel much more hopeful about the dog’s prospects in her home.

Dog training isn’t magic. While you can teach most dogs to perform some behaviors quickly, and it takes a certain amount of time to produce a reasonably well-behaved dog – and a serious commitment of time to develop a reliably well-behaved dog. But very few novice dog owners seem to be aware of that concept when they bring their adorable puppies home.

This is one of the reasons I appreciate WDJ’s readers so much. Owners who care enough about their dogs enough to take the time to actually read and think about training and healthcare and nutrition – do you know how rare you are? I applaud your commitment to your dogs!

For my part, I’ll try to remember not to make it sound like so much work to take care of and guide your dog into developing into a great companion. My team of dedicated writers and I share a passion for our work; maybe we can get carried away in our excitement to share what we’ve learned about collaborating with our own dogs. Let me know if there is anything we can do to make this information more accessible to you and your dogs.

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