Tips for Training Your Dog

Is it really true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Experts say no. Barbara Woodhouse, the world-renowned dog trainer of the 1980s, insisted that any dog-young, old or incorrigible-could be trained. She proved many times over that dogs could be taught very quickly with ”tone of voice, telepathy and a little bit of loving.” Cesar Milan, today’s “Dog Whisperer,” agrees, starting with the “No touch, no talk, no eye contact” concept of greeting dogs before training them to establish a calm, neutral environment so that dogs can focus on training.

There are many commands that dogs can learn, but according to the American Kennel Club, the five basic commands are:

1. Come
2. Heel
3. Sit
4. Stay
5. Lay down

Teaching most dogs is as simple as employing these commands and rewarding the pet as he completes them. It’s important to ensure that the dog is calm and submissive during training and that he is not in an aggressive or playful state-otherwise he won’t be able to focus on anything but his mood.

You also need to know if the dog is sight or hearing impaired. Never sneak up on a dog that is impaired in any way. Make a noise or call the dog’s name from the next room or a few seconds before you walk up to him so you don’t startle him.

It’s important to know a dog’s history. Has the owner had it since it was a puppy? Is it a rescue dog? The majority of rescue dogs are dumped in shelters for a number of reasons, from benign to downright cruel; but whatever the case, when training rescue dogs-and dogs that have been abused-you’re dealing with profound trauma. Dogs suffer from separation anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder that can-and do-prevent them from relaxing enough to be properly trained.

For instance, if your dog is afraid of water and you think that spraying him with the hose will “train the fright out of him,” it will actually have the opposite effect because it will raise an already high level of stress to one that’s off the charts. If you can’t swim and you’re scared of drowning, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Someone could push you into the deep end of a swimming pool. Imagine your terror at that moment. Do you think you could be calm enough to learn a new skill at that point? Probably not. And it’s the same for dogs.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (avsab.org) reminds us that manufacturing fear or avoidance in an already panicked animal does not create an environment where critical learning can take place. In other words, experts Woodhouse and Milan are right. The dog needs to be in a calm, submissive state of mind where he feels safe and calm enough to learn all those new tricks.

Dog training doesn’t have to be stressful for the dog or his owner. If you need help, reach out to the American Kennel Club (www.akc.org) or your local veterinarian for referrals to trainers and obedience schools in your area.