Why do we train our dogs? Because you and your dog are not going to learn new skills during an emergency. I play a bit of “What If” with all my students so they can translate what we are doing in class to what they are going to potentially face in the real world. What if the leash came off? What if your dog was attacked by a crazy stranger? What if a child comes up to pet your dog without permission? What if your dog escaped the front door and is running down the street? What if your dog gets lost? I start with training in the home…
If training is only about teaching a dog to Sit or to go lay down on a bed, then I’m not interested. That’s not my world. We start in the home because a lot of problems can, and do, happen in the home. That includes the yard and the street out front. For some dogs, that means we are also training at the owner’s place of business, since the dog stays there almost as many hours a day as at home. Sometimes more.
Just last week, I was working with a family and their 6 month old Labradoodle. We were working on what to do if the dog ever escaped the home and got into the street. Guess what? The dog escaped through the garage door over the weekend. Since we had been practicing this last week, the owner knew what to do, the dog responded to the Come command instantly, and all was well. That paid for the lessons right there! I’ve instructed many owners regarding safe handling, however there are times they don’t take it seriously enough, and someone gets bitten. In those cases, if the precautions I had recommended had already been implemented, this would have never happened. I can’t move in with my students, I can only instruct them. I have to be careful not to badger people, otherwise they will shut down or quit the lessons. But, when I say things, people need to take them seriously. Owners need to focus more on some dogs, however. You can’t be so busy that you neglect the instruction. A dog bite is not a fun wake up call.
Then we train in public.
I had a student get upset because I kept pointing out the dangers of where we were training. It wasn’t such a great part of town. There had been a number of reported violent crimes in the area we were, and the guys at the park we were training weren’t there for a happy day. I told her what to watch for. She didn’t like hearing it. She had her head in the sand. If you live in a higher crime area, then you have to modify where you train, what you train, and when you train your dog. If I’m willing to train your dog in your neighborhood, even if it isn’t Santa Barbara, then you should be open to instruction in how to manage a dog around shady people.
Most of the time, we are talking about different scenarios that I see in your life. I’m not being nosy about your personal life when I ask about your career or boyfriend or kids, I’m trying to address what you say you do every day, month and year. Like dealing with kids coming up to pet your dog. Or what to do if an off leash dog comes up on your dog. Or how to train your dog to obey if s/he gets away from you and is running away. Or what to do if your dog doesn’t like your husband. Again, it isn’t just about teaching a dog how to Sit for a treat. For example, what is the purpose and use of the Sit command for your situation? Have you ever considered that? Did your instructor show you that? I do.
I also address versions of this in my Therapy Dog classes. We go over what you might need. The more complicated the job, the more I will work with you and your dog to customize the training to fit the job.
You can’t learn all of this when the emergency is happening, however. At that point, you and your dog will perform as well as on your worst days. Stress will shut down your brains, information overload will block your judgment, and bad (or no) training will be all you have. Good luck with that.
So, that is why we train. To prepare, in advance, so you both are safe and happy for years to come. No training program, including mine, can anticipate all situations, but you can at least scoop up about 90% of the scenarios you might encounter. If the training was good, you should still be in pretty good shape for the other 10%. I can’t use the training to protect you from all dog fights. I can’t protect you from all escapes. Or weirdo strangers. Or dogs getting into poisonous plants or chemicals. Or from kids that might get bitten doing this or that with your dog. But, I can give you some general principles that can, hopefully, lessen these risks and give you some tools to work with.
I have more for you. See you next lesson!