DEAR OLD TRAINER: I am getting "Cowboy," a blue heeler pup, at the end of August and would like your thoughts on how to train a new dog and if you advise crate training. I haven't had a heeler before, but I have had problems with my past dogs. I now realize that most likely the problem was me, not the dog!
Angela, Austin, Texas
A: The Old Trainer has fond memories of late nights in Austin listening to the great Willie Nelson, Angela, so it is a pleasure to answer your question.
Heelers are one of the smartest breeds in existence so training Cowboy will be a breeze. They love to learn, but, like all herd dogs, have more energy than a bus load of Hari Krishna dancers.
That is one reason TOT advises you to ignore crate training. It is one of the many dumb ideas that the hefty ladies of the dog show world have inflicted on innocent dogs and there is no need for it with a smart guy like Cowboy.
There are two parts to training Cowboy. The first is introducing him to his new home:
1. Cowboy will be nervous when he arrives, so your job is to give him lots of love to build his confidence. Walk him around the yard and house on his leash, giving him lots of praise and affection as you go. Let him set the pace while you explain, in your normal speaking voice, what you expect of him. As long as you love on him constantly he will read your body language and understand your message.
2. Show him where his water and food dish will be, then remove the leash and give him time to wander around the yard and the house on his own, but keep an eye on him. Be prepared for mistakes, including marking the furniture. Heelers love to do the right thing, so praise him for every bit of good behavior. Correct him -- in your normal speaking voice -- the instant he does something that will not be allowed. Remember, Cowboy will never do something wrong once he knows the rules.
3. Take him outside for five minutes every 30 minutes or so, and stand in the yard with him. If he goes to the bathroom, praise him and tell him what a smart boy he is.
4. When he finds a place he likes in the house and settles down, pet him, then place a blanket or towel in that spot so he will learn to always go to his blanket. If you have kids, let them pet him and play with him as much as they want, but if he goes to sleep leave him alone while he takes a nap. All dogs need a refuge where they can relax.
5. Just before you go to bed take him out to the yard until he goes to the bathroom. If he doesn't do it in 10 minutes take him back inside for a few minutes, then right back out. Once he does, pet him and praise him and bring him in. Place a blanket where you expect him to sleep or let him choose his own place. Heelers have an intense desire to be right next to their loved ones at all times, so he will choose to be in the room with you where he can watch over you every minute (another reason to avoid crate training).
Part two is the formal training. We'll deal with that next week.
Send questions for The Old Trainer to theoldtrainer711@Yahoo.com.