Old Trainer

How I train my dogs

DEAR OLD TRAINER: I just discovered your column and the tips convinced me to try and train our 10-month old Boxer, Katy. Is it possible for you to lay out your overall training program beginning with step one when you first get a dog and start your training routine?

Alice and Ryan, Phoenix Arizona

A: Step one is to remind myself of the first principles of dog training:

1. Dogs learn faster when they are having fun. The first rule of training is to have fun and make sure Katy does too. And nothing is more fun for Katy than pleasing you and having you love on her.

2. Dogs will always do the right thing if they understand what the trainer wants them to do.

3.To paraphrase Sun Tzu in The Art of War, if the troops (dogs) do not understand the commands of the general (trainer), it is the fault of the general.

Then I go to YouTube and watch the documentary, Wolves at Our Door. It’s a beautiful documentary, a pleasure to watch on the merits, but it contains vital information for any trainer—it explains canine psychology, which governs the behavior of all canines, and how to utilize it in your training.

It makes no more sense to use human psychology to train a canine than it does to use canine psychology to train a human. Either effort results in a frustrated trainer and an untrained canine/human, more mixed up than before the training began.

Then I review the five steps to teach a command:

1. Show the dog what you want her to do.

2. Give the command in your normal speaking voice.

3. Give her 10 seconds to think about it.

4. When she does it right, praise her and love on her.

5. Once she has it down add a hand signal to the verbal command.

Then I remind myself again to have fun and to keep training sessions short. Do you prefer a long boring lecture or a quick lesson that tells you the important part? Well, so does your dog.

Training is easier and results come faster when you hold several short sessions spread throughout the day rather than one long, boring snooze-fest. And if you incorporate training in your daily walk or play session it’s even more effective.

When training a dog as young as Katy keep in mind what Jimmy Stewart—movie star and dog lover—said when asked if his dogs were trained. “Well, the difference between ‘trained OK’ and ‘trained perfectly’ doesn't really matter to me. I once did a film with Lassie. When that dog got excited he jumped all over Rudd Weatherwax (Lassie's trainer). If the world's smartest, best-trained dog can jump around to show he's happy, then my little dogs should be allowed to do the same.”

That point escapes far too many dog owners.

There is no official starting place when training a new dog, but I always begin with “sit.” It’s easy to teach, is the departure point for the commands “stay,” “come,” and is the canine equivalent of a time-out. You can always put Katy in the sit position and bore her with a lecture when she breaks the rules.

Finally, go back to Rule One and always remember that love is the most important part of the training.

A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to theoldtrainer@gmail.com.