In theory this is a simple question to answer.
The definition of training is: The action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behaviour. To guide towards a specific goal. The process of bringing an individual to an agreed standard of proficiency by practice and instruction.
But where do we begin? How do we fit dog training into our already busy lives? The whole idea of training can be a daunting one, but it’s nothing to shy away from. It’s not a regimental process; it’s more of a change of approach.
We decide on a goal, make a plan, and break it down into bite-sized portions that are worked through gradually. We do it in small increments rather than long, laborious chunks. We incorporate it into our daily life. Some issues are resolved quickly, while others need more time.
Yet training is not something that we do for a short while and then stop, it is a constantly evolving process. As our dogs go through different stages in life – from the crucial weeks of early puppyhood to the sometimes challenging adolescent stage and beyond – it’s important to keep working with them. Past experiences or a change in circumstance such as moving house or a new addition to the family can mean that your dog needs a bit more help navigating through life.
Think of training as a daily interaction between you and your dog which teaches you about each other and helps you to understand why your dog does what it does. It improves communication between you. It strengthens your bond. It shows your dog that you are a solid and trustworthy guide. It is crucial for more fearful dogs who need their confidence building.
Just as humans love to learn and improve, so do dogs – they are massively perceptive and intelligent. But they aren’t born knowing exactly how we want them to fit in. They don’t instinctively walk nicely on a lead, and they don’t instantly understand human words without first being taught.
Not only does training teach the dog how to behave in certain situations, it gives them much needed mental stimulation – after all, they were originally bred to work, and then we took their jobs away!
Training improves their confidence which in turn helps them to relax and cope better with anything that the environment might throw at them. Training teaches you how to read your dog and other dogs better. It improves your confidence as an owner so that you can manage them better in certain situations, and it gives you more control in an often unpredictable environment.
Dogs need freedom to interact and play, to run, sniff and explore in order to be happy. Training is therefore essential so that you can allow your dog this freedom, and so that you can relax and really enjoy your walks together.
Training is not micro-managing their every move. It’s about letting them make their own choices, but first teaching them what the right choices are and rewarding them accordingly. A dog who has some control over their environment and is allowed to make decisions is a much happier dog than one who is restricted.
Put yourself in their paws. A friendly boss who has good communication skills, who teaches you, gives you confidence, lets you make decisions and who rewards you well is appealing and motivating to work for.
Whereas a grumpy boss who just expects you to know things without first being taught, who constantly criticises or is always on your back and who is stingy with their payments won’t improve your confidence, motivate or inspire you much at all.
It’s the same for dogs. They look to us for guidance and support, to be shown what we want and to be rewarded for their efforts, thus encouraging them to make an effort the next time, the next time and the next time that we ask something of them. It’s a two-way street.
Training requires time and patience but it’s also a lot of fun. By spending time with your dog, by playing, engaging and interacting with them, it makes them want to be with you. By giving your words value and finding out what motivates them they are far more likely to want to listen too.
Even if your dog has no training issues it’s still a great way to keep their life interesting and fulfilled. We place so much emphasis on physical exercise it’s easy to forget about mental stimulation.
By using games and training it gives us more options too. Horrendous weather or feeling unwell? Shorten your walk, play some games and do some simple training instead. Variety is the spice of life they say, so do what you can today, then do a bit more tomorrow. Your dog will thank you for it.