Ever since we adopted our first dog, Sweet Pea, we’ve been on a journey of learning and of teaching. We started by signing Sweet Pea up for an 8-week puppy training course, and quickly realized that everything we were doing in class was teaching us, the humans, how to teach our dog. Our behaviors were what she was learning her cues from, and so we needed to be mindful of our actions (and inactions) from that moment forward.
We learned a lot from that course, and from the reading and research we’ve done in the 14 years since that time. We used to joke that Sweet Pea was “circus trained” because of all of the great tricks she could do. She was pretty incredible, really. After Sweet Pea crossed the rainbow bridge 2 years ago, we adopted Lilly, an adorable mutt who was born in a foster home. We continued what we had learned, teaching Lilly the basics and slowly moving into teaching her some tricks. Her recall wasn’t (and still isn’t) as good as Sweet Pea’s had been, but with the tools used, and with involving our kids in her training, we’re seeing improvement all the time.
Then, at the beginning of 2016, we adopted Cooper, another sweet mutt, and one with a seemingly endless energy. Cooper has been the biggest training challenge we have had, with a very high prey drive, a strong survival instinct from his time on the streets, and of course that intense energy. He tried to eat things we couldn’t have imagined a dog would try to eat. He chewed a LOT (still does, actually). He tried to dash out the front door, the garage door…really any open door. He became blinded to the surrounding world when he spotted another dog, a rabbit, lizard, bird…even some insects. He played pretty rough with our Lilly, who luckily seemed to like the rough play, and so that continues when appropriate. When we brought him home and got to know him, we knew it would be a matter of time before he either took off, or hurt someone. We needed a trainer!
After lots of research into who would make the best trainer for our family, we found Jade Whitney of Team Canine. We wanted kind, effective training with a positive vibe, and she fit the bill perfectly. So, we started training, and realized something big. Cooper wasn’t wanting to be the leader of our home as we had thought, but he wanted to feel strong leadership from us in order for him to feel safe and calm. He didn’t want to leave our house and live out on the streets to fend for himself, but he did want someone to tell him where he was supposed to wait when the door was open. He will absolutely take charge of his situation if nobody else is going to do so, and do so well.
What does all of this have to do with Pet Loss Prevention Month? The training we’ve done so far (and will be continuing!) has absolutely made Cooper less of a loss hazard. Granted, he has his microchip and his PetHub ID tag for backup. So if he does get loose, we have a great chance of finding him. The PetHub ID is great because it has all of Cooper’s information connected with his ID, and we can update it any time on their website. There’s a QR code engraved onto the tag, as well as a backup phone number and website in case the finder isn’t savvy with QR codes. But even with all of that protection, we don’t want it to get to that. So with all of this in mind, there are some training tips we can use to prevent the loss from happening in the first place, as taught to us by Team Canine’s Jade, and supplemented with my 2 cents here and there.
Training Tip: Prevent Door Rushing in 3 Steps
Step 1: Leave a leash by door. As you walk to door, grab the leash and attach to the dog’s collar.
Step 2: Put the dog in a “sit”. Pick a spot near door and ask dog to “sit.” Praise the “good sit”.
Step 3: Greet your guests. Keep the leash loose (using it as a safety net) as you go to open door and keep reaffirming the “good sit”. As you open door keep a peripheral eye on dog. YOU are the one releasing the sit, with a “free”, or whatever word you use to release. Praise your dog freely!
**Important: To train this behavior effectively takes trial and error. If the dog gets up during the exercise, close the door and try again.
Training Tip: Work on Recall in 3 steps
Step 1: Teach the label “home”. Whenever your dog’s about to cross the threshold to enter your home, praise a “good home!”
Step 2: Reinforce going “home”. About to go into the house from outside? Give the cue to go home, and when your dog continues to go inside the house, praise the action like crazy. Maybe even give a treat to further reinforce.
Step 3: Use the command “home” to test your dog. Do this on leash at first, maybe when getting out of the car to go home. Let the dog lead though…pulling the leash to get your dog to listen, doesn’t reinforce their actions. Definitely pay with a high-value treat for going home on command!
With both of these training tips, we’ve chosen not to use food for Cooper’s rewards because he can have a tendency towards food-aggressive behaviors. If food or treats work well for your pack, another really great training tool is the Pet Tutor, made by Smart Animal Training Systems. This device has way more functions than meet the eye, and is incredibly helpful for training, as well as many other things like turning separation anxiety around, and making for some great games to keep your dog engaged. (I especially like it for keeping the dogs’ attention occupied while we do nail trims.)
However you do it, teaching these behaviors will give you an advantage in the world of pet safety, and will also help to build a trust bond with your dog, strengthening your relationship that much more. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?