Our rescue Lab, Kumba, can sit, lie down, stay, and come when called. He’s also a huge fan of cucumbers and will do this routine to get a piece.
I wanted some new challenges for us. So, I called dog trainer Alison Chambers of Complete Canine Training for suggestions.
I was expecting Alison to give me a list of new tricks. Instead, I learned a much better lesson.
Training is about building a relationship
Training is about building a relationship with your dog, helping him to live in the world you’ve brought him into.
Helping your dog live in your world
The goal is to make both your lives more functional for your lifestyle. If you own a boat, you want the dog to be able to jump on and off. If you take your dog to work, you want her to lie by your side. If you’re gone all day, you want your dog to be able to be alone without destroying the house.
Learning to listen to each other
You build this relationship with your dog through communication. It’s a two-way process. He needs to learn to listen to you, and you need to learn how to listen to him.
Step one: “Watch me.”
Before a walk, have your dog sit by your side, looking up at you. Periodically during the walk, ask for that focus: “Watch me.” Work toward having your dog pay attention to you the whole time, with a goal of being able to walk through a crowd undistracted.
Step two: Be more exciting than anything else.
Be fun to be around. Toys, treats, different activities, and varied commands add variety to your time with your dog. Make it easy for her to choose you instead of anything else.
Step three: Add distraction.
Other dogs, a passing car, or a favorite toy are all opportunities to practice getting and keeping your dog’s attention. Begin with distant distractions — a dog approaching from the other end of the block — and work up to closer distractions. Ask her to “watch me” instead of her favorite toy when you are holding it overhead.
Step four: Practice, practice, practice.
Look for opportunities to train your dog to pay attention to you. Instead of avoiding the neighborhood bully — I do a u-turn when I see the dog that Kumba really dislikes — stay the course and help your dog be successful in “watch me” even when temptation is nearby. Your goal is to replace anxiety and fear with approval-seeking: “Oh, there’s that awful dog, so now I get that wonderful treat, right?!”
Alison’s suggestions have already changed my interactions with Kumba, especially during our walks through our neighborhood. Every other dog is now an opportunity to engage our dog in paying attention, for which I reward him with a special treat, this week being tiny pieces of leftover steak. And our afternoon sit, stay, come routine has become a lot more fun now that my husband has joined the game. Nice company for me, more of a workout for Kumba, and a new habit for all three of us!
Who says human’s can’t learn new tricks?