Dog training is a mixed bag and so are dog trainers. I have seen professional dog trainers that took every opportunity to train their dog, no matter the circumstance, the rules are always in place. I also know some people that train their dogs as little as possible.
I fall into the latter group. A friend and I often laughed about our military training dogs that were just encouraged to be dogs whilst other trainers turned theirs into little canine soldiers. I also secretly never really believed in the act of creating robotic assistance dogs, although I do understand why they needed to be stable and reliable.
The dogs in this house share the furniture, they share the beds, they get attention most of the time that they ask for it and they watch intently whilst we eat. In return, they show us their characters, they make us laugh every day and they teach us plenty about cross species love and trust.
Living with your dog doesn’t have to be structured or specific to rules and lessons. Training is one of the ways we can meet the needs of a dog and use their mind, It’s also used to teach new things and prevent/change behaviour problems but it’s not the only way. You can put the following habits in place and never do any formal training at all.
Understand dogs. This is where you may need to put in the effort to learn something that may be new to you. What do dogs mean with their body language? Why do they yawn when they are not tired, how can we tell if they are happy and how can we tell if they are unfulfilled? We should all know a little dog language if we live with a dog, it goes with the territory.
Observe your dog to see what he needs, how you can help him and why he’s making the choices that he does. Observation is the biggest part of canine communication and one which we often forget to use. By watching your dog carefully and using your knowledge, you will often work out the reason for any specific behaviour, then use that to naturally change his behaviour if you want to. A dog will always repeat anything that provides a consequence that he likes and appreciates, change the consequences and your dog will change his own behaviour.
Communicate and set boundaries. Forget about all the old rules and make up your own. If you like a cuddle with the dog on your bed then do it. If you like to share your food with your dog then that’s fine too but there is one stipulation to this, you set boundaries and maintain them consistently. In other words, your dog must know where he stands, otherwise you’re not being fair to him. Decide what is and what isn’t acceptable within your relationship with your dog and create an environment where you both understand those boundaries.
Provide stimulation of every kind to meet your dog’s needs. Scatter food around, offer things that make him think, give him nice toys and stuffed Kongs to use his brain whilst he gets something tasty from his toys. Go for walks together, explore, go new places and play together as the friends and family members that you are to each other.
A bored dog will need training, a dog that has excess mental and physical unused energy might need training but a happy dog with a full life will often live happily beside you with very little formal training at all.
Meeting a dog’s psychological, physical and emotional needs is more important than giving your dog a lifestyle which creates an opening for necessary training.