Training Tips from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation

Whether your dog is a working search dog, an avid agility competitor, or your daily walking partner and couch companion, a few basic principles hold true.


[Updated December 26, 2018]

1. Fluency is a critical concept in training.

How well does your dog know a behavior? Your dog might correctly perform a set of skills at home or while attending training class, but that doesn’t automatically mean he can perform anywhere, anytime, under any conditions.

When dogs fail to correctly perform cued behaviors in new settings, or in the face of distractions, they aren’t being stubborn, willful, or dominant, as many people believe. Rather, they are struggling to meet the demands placed upon them in that moment. In order for a dog to truly know a behavior – for it to become fluent – we must invest the time to train for the many types of situations we are likely to encounter with our dogs. See “Fluency and Generalization in Dog Training,” for more details.

NDSDF dog training


2. Not every dog is the right fit for every home.

The decision to share your life with a dog should not be taken lightly. Do your homework before even getting a puppy or dog! This can include researching individual breed qualities (to make sure the dog’s likely natural tendencies will be a good fit in your household) and taking the time to find a reputable breeder or rescue organization. (See “Successful Dog Adoption Criterias, Part 1,” from this issue.)

It’s also vitally important that everyone in the home is committed to training and management to help the new family member succeed. Dogs aren’t born understanding how to co-exist in our complex human world; they rely on us to teach them how to thrive. This takes time. Attending a single session of a training class will not result in a well-trained dog. It’s important to make sure you fully understand the amount of work that goes into creating the canine companion you likely imagine when you think about getting a dog.

Still, sometimes, despite our best efforts, a specific dog is not a good match in a certain home. Although this can be heartbreaking, it is often in the best interest of all involved to help the dog find a more appropriate placement by returning him to the breeder or rescue organization. To that end, we feel that a truly reputable breeder or rescue organization will support clients, offering advice to help remedy the situation when possible, or accepting return of the dog without blaming or shaming the family.