DEAR OLD TRAINER: I can’t believe you wrote that you let your dogs decide the rules when you play. If you allow a dog to make decisions he will think he is the leader and refuse to obey. At least that’s what they said at obedience school.
Mark, Pacifica, California
A: The word “allow” is the key word in your question, Mark. Most confusion about being a leader arises because people don’t realize dogs know the difference between being “allowed” to do something and doing it on their own.
Training is a logical exercise and making rigid rules so that dogs never learn how to think makes no sense. The more my dogs think for themselves the better leader I am and the happier they are. And the better they understand pack rules.
My dogs are not ignoring me and making their own rules. They are experimenting to see what the boundaries are and thinking up new ways to have fun. The exact same thing canines do in the wild.
Adjusting the rules in a game as a dog matures and becomes smarter rewards the dog for coming up with a good idea and teaches him to do more of it. It’s the only sensible way to lead a pack.
DEAR OLD TRAINER: Chango, our Yellow Lab is two years old. He obeys all commands and never does anything wrong except anytime he sees water he jumps in it. It makes no difference if it is a mud puddle, an irrigation canal, or the ocean, he’s in it. I didn’t realize Labs loved water so much, but once I did I decided to let him do it. The problem is he winds up covered with mud or algae or salt or whatever. We have to give him a bath almost every day and the bathroom looks like a battle zone. Will he ever quit being crazy about the water?
Genna, Half Moon Bay, California
A: Maybe when he is an old-timer who prefers dozing by the fire in his robe and slippers, but don’t count on it.
A love of water is in his DNA and he cannot resist doing what he was bred to do. One of the major reasons dogs wind up in shelters is that people make their choice based on looks without understanding that dogs bred for a specific task will constantly perform that task.
Doesn’t mean you have to ruin your bathroom though. Let Chango play in the water all he wants, just bathe him outside instead of in the bathroom. Call him over to the garden hose, use a leash to make sure he stays in place, and run cool water over his entire body, including feet and tail. Move your hand through his fur to ensure the water is getting down to the skin.
Talk to him and brag on him to keep him calm. If he starts to shake, grab the fur on his neck and say, “don’t shake.” When you finish, say “shake,” and pet him and praise him when he does.
Dry him with a towel if you want, but Labs dry so fast you don’t have to bother. His coat will be clean and fluffy, he’ll have a good time, and the next time you pick up the hose he’ll come running and you won’t need the leash.
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.