Dog training can often times seem very complicated and overwhelming. It doesn’t really have to be that way. Usually I find errors in judgment that new dog owners make which tend to create their own complications.  Then it’s not fun having a dog any more. Unfortunately, most of these owners didn’t take dog training seriously at first.

Let me explain it with this story.

  Small dog pulling on a lead When Lucy first got Buddy as a puppy, he was a handful that grew up fast! Buddy had absolutely no manners, little regard for rules, and knew no obedience commands. Because of this, Buddy was officially “no more fun!” Buddy was also embarrassing because he began to charge other dogs on walks. It’s not that he was aggressive but he pulled on leash controlling the walk. Daily duties and exercise walks were a chore and Lucy now tried to only walk Buddy when no one else was around. Now she wished she had done more dog training.

Where did Lucy go wrong?

Lucy remembers when the dog behavior problem first started. “once he got used to life with me and got his confidence up he started acting like a maniac on the leash when we would see other dogs.” Ideally Buddy should have been introduced to an obedience training program immediately when he arrived at her home. He also should have been socialized once he became vaccinated and able to safely mix with other dogs. But he was just too cute and cuddly and Lucy was really busy with friends and family, so she thought she could always train and socialize later. Lucy saw the truth in what I had said to her earlier: Adopting a dog is a true commitment that one should enter with both eyes wide open. There will most likely be problems and inconveniences to deal with so be prepared. Getting any dog, even under ideal conditions, does not guarantee a well-adjusted animal. Recently I posted this on Facebook: “The most desirable lifestyle for your dog lies somewhere between how he instinctively behaves and how you want him to behave. Achieving this balance requires setting rules and boundaries for your dog.” What this means is: all dogs need structure, rules to be set for them and your personal space boundaries need to be respected. But it seems that dogs with stronger personalities, like Buddy, are the ones that need this structure the most.

Buddy lacked socialization too

The window of socialization for puppies begins to close somewhere between 3 ½ to 5 months of age. Breeders sell puppies at about 8 weeks of age thereby seriously limiting socialization time with their litter mates. The burden is now on you to socialize your pup as much as you can by 5 months of age and keep up his socialization. Buddy’s behavior on leash towards other dogs could have been prevented with better socialization by regular visits to public dog parks or even doggie daycare playtime. But with Lucy choosing to spend more time on her own social life, there were a lot of missed opportunities to socialize Buddy. Now, with no structure, very little obedience and limited socialization at 12 months of age, Buddy was just acting on instinct when out for a walk. He just hadn’t been given the opportunity frequently enough, or at all, to properly learn how to do much of anything correctly, much less learn good butt-sniffin’ petiquette. This included having good house manners, walking nicely on a leash and interacting with dogs without being a bully. Buddy is a kind soul with lots of good intentions. He just needed a chance to learn and to shine and to make his Mom proud. They both wanted to enjoy life, have a good time and, you know, be each other’s “buddy.”

Now the work begins: Rebuilding the relationship properly

This was one of those “do the work now or pay the consequences later” deals and we were definitely on the back end but all was not lost. It’s really never too late if you commit to a daily regimen of change. So what’s to change? A lot is to change. Here are the areas we focused on to get Lucy and Buddy where they needed, and really wanted to be. Structure in the home: Buddy was immediately put on a learn-to-earn program in all aspects of his life. Sitting became his way to say ”please” for everything he wanted. Obedience training: Lucy began a regimen of 3, two (2) minute obedience training sessions daily to give Buddy a sense of working for her rather than Lucy following his lead of nudge/pet. Exercise: Buddy was introduced to a Gentle Leader for walking, control and constructively managing his energy and behavior on leash. Lucy pledged two good, brisk walks of 30-45 minutes daily for Buddy. Behavior on walks around dogs: Lucy was taught how to gradually desensitize Buddy to other dogs on walks through obedience training – first at greater distances and then gradually getting him closer. Buddy is now easy to control at 6 feet from dogs near the jogging trail at a local park. With the distraction dogs we set up for Buddy, his reward for holding a sit/stay or heeling on a slack leash near these dogs, at least for a while, was to actually get to “go play” with our friendly distraction dogs. Buddy is a little “ruff” around the edges on how he plays but is definitely a “work in progress.” And progress he is making! It’s really never too late to start training but hindsight says, “Start when you get your dog!” There’s a whole lot more of enjoyment to be had that way! Thanks for letting me share my dog training knowledge with you. Don’t be a stranger. I’d love to hear what you think. Let me know how this article impacted you and the way you think about training. Are you looking at it a little differently?

Remember: “Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”

Jim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog. His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your dog understands what you expect of him, you empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.