Training dogs is a complex art. Whether training a sled dog team made up of a dozen animals or a standard poodle for the show ring, the methods vary considerably from trainer to trainer. No two dogs will fit into exactly the same mold, no more than people do. The beagle you work with today will require an entirely different technique from the bumbling mastiff that is dropped at your door tomorrow.
A German shepherd may need a dozen single commands to become a decent house dog. Should you ask him to be your hunting companion, he may need another dozen sets of instructions. Twenty or thirty individual commands are an easy task for dogs of average intelligence and a trainer with a bit of patience. Don’t expect your dog to finish schooling in a month. Six months of daily training will get your dog to the point where your friends and neighbors think you have the smartest dog on the block. And you probably will!
Working with boarding dogs has given me an insight into companion dogs that has been unexpected. The vast majority of dogs have had no formal training of any kind. The more intelligent animals pick up a lot on their own over the course of a few years and at the very least, become manageable in household situations. However, if the owner puts them into a new situation, the dog becomes confused and uncertain and may respond in an unexpected manner.
Quite a few dogs come to us to get their toenails cut. Animals that have never had their feet handled get quite nervous when some stranger picks up their feet with a pair of toenail clippers in hand. Many dogs respond with some fear, others may try to nip. The owner can easily solve this beforehand. Handle your pets’ feet on a daily basis. That doesn’t mean teaching him to shake hands. Really handle the feet. All four of them. Poke at his toes, pick every foot up and bend it back and forth. It becomes normal and commonplace. You can cut his toenails yourself and save fifteen bucks — and a lot of trauma for your dog.
Sled dogs are so used to getting toenails clipped that mushers can do 25 dogs in less than a half hour. Their feet are handled constantly in training (booties on and off). It is no big deal to them.
The more diverse situations you introduce to a dog, the more comfortable with themselves they become. Take your dog with you in the truck. Leave him in the vehicle when you go to into the store. He gets to look around and face different people, cars moving around and whatever else he might see through the window — on his own. A dog learns a lot when he doesn’t have the master to lean on.
Let your dog make mistakes, in training and in his response to situations. If he doesn’t make a mistake, then the trainer has nothing to correct. No correction = no learning. Aggressive dogs are easily cured from that very bad habit. There is no need to have an aggressive dog, that either bites or acts as if he might. A trained guard dog is quite different from an animal that intimidates people. An intimidating dogs is either a bully or very insecure.
A good guard dog is an animal that is comfortable in his own skin and has been around many different people in lots of varying situations, thus is comfortable in understanding his role as a protector. Most breeds have protective traits bred in, whether accidentally or on purpose, that is the nature of a canine; protect the pack. The insecure dog barks, threatens or bites because that is the only defense he knows when faced with the unknown. Teeth is all they have. Give him security by introducing him to many diverse situations.
Train your house dog! Don’t have the obnoxious dog that jumps on people that come to visit. It is okay for him to comes up to visitors for an introduction or even a quick pet. Your dog should not jump on people or growl at folks. Remember, “No” is not a command. “Down” is. It is okay for your pet to give a warning bark; “hey, a car just pulled up.” There are dogs who take an immediate dislike to some people and are never going to be happy when that person stops by. That does not mean the guy your dog is uncomfortable with is a bad dude. It means there is a personality conflict. Just like we may have with some people.
Remember, training dogs is a not a one size fits all project. A technique that yields results with one dog may turn out to be marginal with another — even another of the same breed. Turn your pet into a good citizen. There are no magic tricks. It will take time and patience and the ability to think like a dog.