“Dog training is the application of behavior analysis which uses the environmental events of antecedents and consequences to modify the behavior of a dog, either for it to assist in specific activities or undertake particular tasks, or for it to participate effectively in contemporary domestic life.”
That’s a mouthful. In layman’s terms we teach a dog obedience commands or behaviors to help them adapt and live harmoniously with us, in our human environment. Let’s face it. Dogs are well…dogs. They are not human. Their perspective, choices, influences, brain functions and capabilities are different than ours. As humans we need to understand this and respect them. If we don’t we end up with some serious behaviours that need to be addressed by a professional trainer.
In the old days it used to be more obedience focused for pet owners. We got a puppy from a reputable breeder and took it to obedience classes. We joined a weekly class with anywhere from 5 to 20 other clients to learn the basics: sit, down, stay, watch me or look, leave it, come, heel and off. Sometimes it was a club sometimes a individual trainer. Those commands we were taught were pretty standard. You saw a few roudy pups, or some bratty teen dogs, but nothing that the obedience trainer couldn’t handle. You then graduated and signed up for the next 6 to 8 week program. There was always about 3 to 6 levels you had to do before you could even think about getting into any competitive dog sport. Dogs learned to listen. Heel, obey and generally become great dogs. Some went onto the dog spot world of competition (as I did). CKC ( Canadian kennel club, which I am a member of) was at the time, only for purebred dogs, registered. So if you had an unpapered dog you could not compete; if you have a mixed breed dog, you could not compete in sanctioned trials either. You could however, in my time at least, join NAMBR (North American Mixed Breed Registry) with your mixed breed or unpapered dog, register your dog, be a member and do things with this organization (as I did due to owning a highly obedient amazing mixed breed dog, Everest, my german shepherd/border collie mix). I am not aware where they stand today or if they even exist anymore, since CKC is now open to all members to compete in CKC trials as long as they are a member, mixed breed or not. Some folks agree with this, some folks do not.
I find it interesting how these changes came about and how dog behaviors and training has changed over the years. I’m now 45 years old. I’ve been training my own personal dogs since the early 1980s when I got my first pampered dalmation at age 10. She failed obedience class 3 times. I was determined for her to pass and after 3 attempts she graduated. Boy was I proud of her. I had her off leash, coming when called, she did tricks and all sorts of obedience commands. Would she listen to my mom? Nope. But they didn’t pass me until the dog did everything required of that class. I can not talk about experiences in the 1970s or before that. But what I see now and what I experienced back then is quite different.
People are adopting from rescues left, right and centre. And that’s great. Rescues are a great resource and do a wonderful thing to find homes for dogs in negative situations or lost or displaced. But, not all people should adopt? Wait, what did I just say? Yes, that’s right. I said it. You’ve all heard the mantra “adopt don’t shop.” Not everyone is equipped financially or mentally to handle what they adopt. Some rescues organizations are fantastic. Good Doggy! works with a few rescues and heir clients. Will I work with all rescues? Nope. Many assess the dogs correctly, they take the time to educate the public, they support their clients, they are professional and are organized re their fiances. Some are not. Adopting a dog requires research and to know your lifestyle just like with getting a puppy from a reputable breeder. Puppies should never leave their moms before I weeks of age. Breeders need to be members of organizations like CKC or AKC to set standards, have proper breeding practices and be about educating their clients. You will get papers for health guarantees due to the tests required for specific breeds and they have a set of rules they need to follow. Neither is wrong or right. The public needs to educate themselves into choosing what is best for their lifestyle, family, energy level, stress levels and what their goals are. Many rescues are mature dogs or dogs that can have baggage and the clients need to know how to handle this baggage. By baggage I mean past experiences, breed mixtures, training or lack of, exposure or lack of and other various factors. Some rescue dogs have trouble adapting ( from being displaced) and so you need patience and awareness (reactivity, fear, lack of confidence and aggression) and proper behaviour training to help you reach your goals. Dogs from.a reputable breeder is basically a clean slate to forward with, but it comes with added challenges of crate training and potty training etc). Puppies are not easier, just different. Being aware and open to doing diligent research will help you make the right decision for you and your family.
To be clear, I am not partial to either or. I’ve owned and still own wonderful dogs I acquired through rescues. I’ve also owned and still own dogs I’ve purchased from reputable breeders. It’s a personal choice but should be made based on proper evaluation of your situation so you are being proactive to have the best outcome owning any dog you chose.
What does this have to do with training? A lot. What dog you chose to have in your life is your choice. A lifetime commitment. It should not be a choice based on heart strings or love. Love does not fix a dogs issues. Training does. Too much emotion can exacerbate a dogs issues. It should be based on what is best for you and your individual situation so that when training enters the equation you are prepared and equipped to handle whatever behaviors happen and get the required assistance to reach your training goals. A dog is a wonderful part of a human lifestyle. Make a wrong decision and it can create huge stressors. Be prepared. Do your research and regardless of getting a breeder puppy or a rescue always train. Training helps to give you confidence as a handler, teaches your dog boundaries and rules, educates people into how to communicate effectively with their dog to get optimized results.
If you do go the extra mile with your dog to do an extra sport or activity after inital training with your dog, you will be thankful that your dog has a solid foundation. They should have good impulse control in the ring, calm, listening, not barking like crazy or jumping onto strangers or lunging at other dogs while doing an activity such as: agility, lure cursing, flyball, barn hunts, bite/protection work, tracking, scent work, obedience or rally obedience training whether it is for pleasure or competition a dog that is well behaved, knows its obedience, and is under control says a lot about you and a handler/owner and where that dogs state of mind is. Foundation obedience training and behavioral training will never be a waste of time or money. Having a dog take off during an agility trial is embarrassing (I’ve seen this happen – not impressive). The more you do with your dog, the more you get in return. Don’t run before you know how to walk. In the end, isn’t a well socialized, happy, healthy and obedient dog what we want? Training is a pretty important component of responsible dog ownership.
**As a side note, stay away from people claiming to be a reputable breeder who sells on kijji or Facebook. Good breeders sell their dogs before the pups are even born. Good rescues will take the time to talk to you, help you and give referrals to trainers and network. A mixed breed or designer dog will not have papers. If someone tries to tell you otherwise run. **