Dog Training: Make Your Dog a Pet with a Purpose
Incorporating Dog Commands into Everyday Life
By Bonnie Sweebe
Big dogs or small dogs, all dogs need training. But what exactly do you expect your dog to do? What role does the dog have in your family life? What is your envisioned goal?
I have two golden retrievers. I am also a service dog puppy raiser. When I began training my pet golden retrievers, I trained with the mindset of advancing through the classes until the dogs became Canine Good Citizens. They did.
The certificates are figuratively on the wall. The tags are on their collars.
But one cold snowy morning, my prey-driven golden retriever escaped through an open garage door and ran across the street. Her goal was geese. She did not listen to the come command. She did not listen to the drop command. I had to physically retrieve my retriever from a water retention basin in nothing more than jeans and a shirt.
The issue is much deeper than asking why she wasn’t wearing her Invisible Fence collar. Why didn’t I anticipate that scenario before? Why didn’t I train towards it? What happened to my dog’s well-learned behaviors? Simple, I no longer demanded the well-learned behaviors on a regular basis.
Several things happened. I set up my dog for failure. My dog had become lazy. I had become complacent. I had trained without purpose.
My busy life had taken precedence over reinforcing learned dog behaviors and because of my lackadaisical training agenda, my once polite golden retrievers became pushy again and then downright obnoxious.
Squirrels trumped the come command. The dog’s strong will tugged the leash to the limit. Greeting people returned to a tangled leash of uncontrollable excitement all because I didn’t take the time to incorporate the learned dog commands into my everyday life. My pet dogs became pets without purpose.
I didn’t realize this until I began raising a service dog puppy. Sure, excellent temperament and breeding sets these animals up for success. But what impressed me the most was the training program that focused on and constantly reinforced the goal, the lifetime goal: to train and prepare a service dog for the job of assisting a handicapped individual and enhancing their life.
When raising and training my service dog puppy, I am constantly evaluating and redirecting behavior based on the effect it will have on their ultimate life purpose. Will allowing it to act this way or behave in this manner prohibit it from doing its job in the future? Will the dog’s actions put the handicapped individual in harm’s way? If so, then I must redirect the behavior. I am determined to do the best I can to see that my service dog puppy succeeds and fulfills its purpose. The goal is clear. The puppy has a future job to do.
Focused expectations for the service dog puppy are well-crafted and bound in my three-ring handbook. But what goals did I have for my pet golden retrievers. What vision did I have for their life? If it was lying around being cute, why was I so frustrated with them? If that was my expectation for their purpose, they were wildly fulfilling it.
All dogs, pet dogs included, need a job to do. You are your dog’s employment agent. If you don’t place them in a position, you will encourage laziness, irreverence and misbehavior. They will become a social problem.
It would benefit the relationship immensely to evaluate what it is that you expect your pet dog to do. Then find a way to get your dog to do it and eventually do it well.
A dog is a family member. Every member of the family has a job to do that enhances the family unit.
What role does your dog play in your family? What do you want it to do? Where do you want it to go? How do you want it to behave when it gets there?
For example, if you are a family with elementary age children and you own a boat and like to spend weekends boating, what role do you envision your dog to play in that recreation? Then train him with a purpose accordingly.
Having your dog learn the basic commands without a purpose in mind is like memorizing the dates for a history test but never actually placing the dates in time with the events and their possible effect on history. You are cheating yourself out of the “ah-ha” moment because you didn’t learn with purpose.
You cannot throw the dog into a situation and expect a simple sit and stay to suffice. What if the dog is afraid of engine noise? Gasoline fumes? Sea gulls? What if you didn’t train it to jump? How would it get into the boat? And once in the boat, how will the dog go potty? Train the dog with a purpose that is measurable. You get more done and it’s a whole lot more fun.
Do you want your dog to go with you when you walk your child to school? Do you want it to walk slowly, not pull on the leash and sit calmly for children to greet it? Train it with that purpose in mind and then do it! Envision it. Practice it. Aim for the goal. One day, the dog just may have the temperament and the willingness to accomplish the task successfully.
In reality, not all dogs are suited for certain jobs. Well over 50% of rigorously trained service puppies don’t even make the cut. Even if the dog understands and performs all of the required commands, innate fears, prey drives, barking, and uncontrollable excitability could all be a reason for release from the program. But that doesn’t prevent them from being exceptionally good companion pets—a pet with a different purpose.
True, even well-bred dogs with excellent temperaments could have traits that make it unwise to put them into a particular circumstance. But I guarantee you this, even if the vision for your dog does not unfold exactly as expected, you will accomplish much more and enhance your relationship if you train with a purpose in mind.
Consider the dog’s temperament and physical abilities. Then create new goals, a new vision and a new purpose. Just give them a job to do. The dog will benefit mentally and physically. You will be proud of your measurable accomplishment. You will have a happier pet with a purpose.
Bonnie Sweebe is a dog lover, dog owner, dog advocate, and rescue and service dog volunteer and service dog puppy raiser. She is also the owner of WelcomePup.com, an online dog gift delivery company.