Beginning With the End in Mind

If you have ever attended one of my seminars or had a dog trained by me what I am about to say should be familiar to you.   “A dog will never be more consistent than you are…”  Not only is this a fact when training dogs, it is a principle dog owner should live by, no matter how old the dog.

When clients pick up a puppy at 7-8 weeks old, one of the first things I bring up for the  puppy’s new family to  discuss and agree on is: What standards will the family maintain around the house and/or in the field?  Be specific.  Is the dog going to be allowed up on the couch? Is he going to get table scraps during dinner?  How about jumping up on people to greet them?  These are only a few of the many questions you and your family need to agree on before the dog sets foot in the house.

All too often clients think one particular behavior is cute when the dog is a puppy but quickly becomes unacceptable as the dog gets older.  When I take a dog in for training, I will insist that the new arrival understands the laws of the land from the first time we meet.  You see, I believe that everything a dog does is a “habit set in motion”.  If left to create their own habits… well, chances are they will not match the habit you in mind when you purchased your new four legged friend.  Now I am not saying that you should be so controlling that you nag your dog to death.  A dog should be a dog, too.  Here are a few quick rules I would live by when setting standards for your new dog:

1. Teach your dog good citizenship around the house – This is a time when a new dog owner can quickly go overboard and nag a dog to death.  I would keep the number of rules to a minimum.  After all, you just brought

a puppy into your new home – not a miniaturized version of yourself.

2. Mark both good behavior and bad behavior – Now when I say “mark” I mean just giving a simple “yes” or “good dog” command for behavior we want to see repeated and “no” command for behavior we do not want the dog to repeat.

3. Maintain consistency in your program – It not fair to the dog if one minute you let him jump up on you and the next time you don’t. What message is that sending to the dog. Simply put, he can’t trust you.  Everyone is free to set their own standard of behavior when it comes to their dog – who am I to judge?  But maintain consistency and be fair to the dog.

4. Reward effort – Only correct a dog for blatant disobedience and lack of effort. Some dogs will do anything to avoid the task at hand, to me that is lack of effort, others will try really hard and just not do what you are asking. It’s important to recognize the difference.

5. Begin with the end in mind – Think in terms of this pint-sized puppy growing to full size. Some behaviors may be cute when they are 8 pounds but unacceptable when the are 80 pounds. Also, if you own a hunting dog start thinking in terms of that dream retrieve when a dozen mallards set into your rig. Does sit mean sit – or do we allow a little creeping because “he is just a puppy”. My only comment to the argument of “he’s just a puppy” is that performance standards only erode with each passing year if you don’t maintain them. A puppy that is allowed to creep when he is young is a good candidate to breaking on that group of mallards that set into the rig at shooting time.

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