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Terms of engagement

By Scott Hunt

The Dog Grumbler

 

I WRITE a lot about consistency and its importance in dog training.

I advise that consistent repetition of the same sounds and body language in the same situations will make it easier for a dog to recognise routines and sequences of events.

For the same reason, I advise households to coordinate their commands and signals when interacting with the family dog to avoid confusion.

Once a dog has settled into family life however, a common problem is boredom.

You may walk the dog regularly, take it for a drive, throw a ball or stick — but depending on the individual dog this may not be enough to keep it happy.

This applies especially to working breeds; they need engagement — they need to be busy working and thinking.

When I start to work with a dog, it often comes equipped with an established repertoire of commands and signals which its own human family has built up.

Some clients express initial concern when I expect their dog to learn a whole new lexicon of my own, but are pleasantly surprised to soon find their dog using two separate languages with ease.

It’s good for them, like learning a second language is for humans.

This is another reason for a dog to have human friends outside the family circle — a subject I touched on recently.

If you become such a friend, you will have several advantages.

Mostly you get a grandparent situation – quality time and total control over the dog’s experiences while in your company.

And then you give them back.

This is the best way to see how dog training works.

To those people who contacted me after last month’s column, try the following.

Assuming someone is happy for you to collect their dog say once a week at a regular time and return it later, plan a route and a routine before you start.

When you turn up to collect the dog, have your outing mapped out and talk to the dog about it.

Go somewhere together and smell things on the way.

Go somewhere where dogs go or have been and smell things there.

Drive, walk, it doesn’t matter.

Go to two or three places and smell things.

When you take the dog back, make it sit for a treat.

Sounds easy doesn’t it?

Well it’s not, it’s just simple.

Now you have to go back and do it the same way next week.

Then you have to do it again.

The dog has to believe in you.

Then you will start to see a dog who sees you, or smells you, or recognises the time of day or week when you are coming and perks up.

Then you will have a dog who comes home from its outing and sits happily when told to, who will eagerly learn new obedience sequences to get to the treat that follows.

An eager, engaged pupil.

You can do more.

You can name things that relate to the dog’s behavior – you can have a hand signal or spoken command — and preferably both — for “get in the car”, or “wait here”, or “heel”, or “stop that”.

Just use them consistently.

If you say “cockatoo” every time the dog gets in the car (or is put in the car), eventually it will hear the word and get in the car — or if there’s no car perhaps jump on to the couch.

Signals like “stay” can apply to all sorts of situations and your new friend will eagerly learn how you use them.

The dog will do all the work if you show it that it can believe in you — that you will be consistent.

There is no shortcut.

You have to show the dog that you can be relied upon.

There’s no end to this once you get it.

Expand your outings and keep using the signals.

Just be consistent.

Lots of people don’t have the patience.

For some the greatest challenge is being in charge.

If you can manage both you will be a dog’s best friend — or one of them — and your new friend will be happier — and bilingual.