DEAR OLD TRAINER: I save your columns to use in training Dude, my 1-year-old Shar-Pei. He starts off well and learns fast, but after a few minutes he quits concentrating and just wants to play. It sounds easy in your column, but I get frustrated because it’s a lot harder when I try it.
A: Thank you for raising that point, Dana. One of my failures is making training sound easy. That’s because it is easy for me.
I know I will succeed before I ever step in the training pen, and the dog knows it, too. I start out to train a dog with the same philosophy in mind as Sun Tzu when he wrote in “The Art of War”: “Every battle is won before it is ever fought.”
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That concept – you determine the outcome of a challenge before it occurs by the level of preparation you achieve – is hard to grasp for many, but it applies to anything you do. A major part of training a dog is the work you do before you ever step into the pen. Here is how you prepare so you can train Dude and have fun doing it.
Become a leader: A dog obeys orders from the leader. If he perceives you as the leader, he does what you tell him to do. Convince yourself you are the leader – really convince yourself – and Dude will accept you as the leader.
Develop the will of a trainer: Even when you are capable of training Dude, you still have to summon the will to do it. That’s hard for most owners. They love their dogs so much they cannot bring themselves to discipline them. I know. I hate to discipline mine, too.
Utilize Dude’s playfulness: Shar-Peis are so fun-loving; they like to play and so smart they figure out how to make the trainer play with them instead of train them.
I enjoy playing with dogs as much as I do training them, so I never hold a training session without including some play. I teach them a command and when they do it right, they get to take a play break. Just half a minute, but that is enough. They soon realize the way to get to play is to do what I am telling them to do.
All training sessions should include frequent play breaks anyway. If you save my columns, you know I advocate short training sessions, no longer than 10 minutes or so, with multiple sessions per day. Each time a dog successfully performs a command, I take a break for 30 seconds of love and play.
Be patient. It makes no difference how long it takes to train Dude. Take as much time as you need to learn how to train him in a way you both enjoy.
Stick to it: There is a scene in “Body Heat” when a jailed William Hurt tells the detective that Kathleen Turner was “relentless.” That’s what you have to become.
You are doing a better job than you may realize. Be relentless, but be patient and make sure you and Dude have fun, and you will see positive results.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.