We were at a new Home Dog Training Client in Gainesville last week working with him and his six-month-old Shepadoodle named Leroy.  Leroy was our client’s first dog and at six months, was already very headstrong and doing his best to take charge of the household.  We told our client that he had a dog that is a mix of the two most intelligent dog breeds (Poodle and German Shepherd). The good news is that Leroy can be easily trained.  The bad news is that he is super smart and will often “be one step ahead” of my client and his family.  With so many things to do, our discussion focused around “the big things” that he should teach his dog and the “big things” that he shouldn’t teach Leroy…

What Should I Teach My Dog First?

This is a discussion that we have with many clients with their first dogs.  The conversation becomes far more important when “the first dog” is big, active, and smart.  It becomes vital to enforce and encourage calm and focused behavior and eliminate or discourage inappropriate behavior.

Let’s first take a look at “the inappropriate stuff”.  This is usually most prevalent among new dog owners with big, active, and smart dogs. Since they have not experienced misbehaving dogs in the past, they may not fully grasp “the consequences of their actions” when teaching “fun stuff” to their dogs.  The problem with “fun stuff” is that the actions that they are teaching may be “fun” every once in a while or when requested, but not at other times.

Some examples of “fun” stuff that many new dog owners often find perfectly harmless to teach their dogs are:

  • Shake my hand! (Give me paw!)
  • Jump on me when I come home.
  • What do you hear?  What do you hear?  What do you hear!
  • Get the squirrel!
  • Go chase Billy!

The issue becomes that when they spend the time and fully teach their dogs to do these things, there is no natural “off switch”.  Dogs learn through a very focused process of absolute actions.  They learn that they can do something or that can’t do something.  They learn that a specific sound requires them to immediately act in a unique way.  There is no “sometimes” in their learning process.  There is only an “always” in their learning process.

Our clients (humans) make this mistake because we have the ability to reason and make decisions regarding the specificity of our actions.  Where we obviously would not want our dog to jump on us if we were wearing nice clothes, our dog would only understand that we had taught him to jump.  Our dogs don’t understand the concept of “I can do this when…”. Because of this, we need to be very careful regarding what we want to teach our dogs.

If we don’t want our dog to jump on our guests when they enter the house, we can’t allow or teach him to jump on us when we come home.  If we don’t want our dog to take off running down the street, we can’t encourage him to chase the squirrels in the back yard. Everything must be consistent and absolute.

Even after we get our first-time-dog-owner clients over this hurdle, there is still another obstacle they need to overcome.  Just because one family member may want to keep Leroy off the family room sofa all the time, another family member may not care and invite him up.  Even though we can understand “different people, different rules”, Leroy can’t understand that.  Remember, to him, everything must be absolute.  If the rule is to stay off the sofa, that is the rule. The fact that there are different people in the room or that there is anyone in the room is irrelevant.  “Off the sofa” means “off the sofa”; period.  Besides creating absolute rules, everyone must consistently and identically enforce those rules.

Let’s turn our attention to what we should be teaching our dogs.  Our lives are very busy and there is never enough time to do everything we may want to accomplish.  Even with the best intentions, things happen” and “stuff doesn’t get done”.  We need to determine what lessons our dog should know that are specifically important to us and to his continual safety.  For simplicity’s sake, we will break our dog’s lessons into two categories.  The first category is “Behavior”.

We want to have a good relationship with our dog.  This requires that our dog is well behaved, obeys us, and gives us respectful focus.  Every client has a different understanding of what those things mean.  We help our clients discover what they really require from their dog’s behavior by asking them a very simple question.  We ask them to finish the statement “My dog bugs me because…”.  Every dog and every dog owner is different.  What may bug one person may not bug the next.  But, our client’s answer to the question will determine the behavior lessons that need to be taught.

Some of the most common behavior issues are:

  • No jumping
  • No barking
  • Don’t run to the front door when someone rings the bell
  • No stealing
  • Off the sofa
  • Listen to me

These are all things that you want them to do or you need them to do.  They are 24×7 activities that, when properly taught and enforced, promote a happy and well balanced family.  They can be different for every family and are all based on the answer to the question we ask our clients.

The next category of lessons that we need to teach are dog are Obedience exercises.  Where Behavior exercises were normally based on “just don’t do that at any time” and are normally initiated by the dog’s actions, Obedience exercises are normally based on “I want you to do this now” and are normally initiated by the owner’s actions.

When deciding what Obedience commands you want to teach your dog first, think of the things, if your dog always performed, would make your life easier. I always suggest that our clients work on the Come command first.  This is because we normally use this command when we want to bring our dog inside so we can get to work, to the store, etc.  We normally call them to come because of a reason that is important to us.

Some “thought-starters” that we often suggest to our clients are:

  • Come
  • Sit
  • Stay
  • Down
  • Walk
  • Crate

We all get dogs because we love them and want them to be wonderful additions to our family.  If we can make sure that they don’t do things that bug us and do the few things that we really need them to do, life will be good.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over sixteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.