Every moment of every day is a learning experience for your new puppy or dog. They are learning from their environment, through their actions and from you. They are learning what makes things work, how to problem solve, how to push buttons and how to navigate life.
In order for us to have a well rounded, well behaved dog, we must keep the above in mind when we open our home to a canine companion. Especially in the early years, as these are critical in your puppy/dogs development, social and behavioural experiences. In order to retain the dog that we desire, we need to maintain training throughout the dogs life.
So why do so many think one set of 8 lessons is going to create the dog they dream of and poof, it’s that easy? Well, there are a number of reasons, but I find a big problem is the view that dogs should be easy, and dogs should all learn the same, and basically all dogs should retain and operate in the same fashion. This is simply not true.
Then there are the questions of why isn’t this dog as good as my first dog? How come this dog’s prey drive is higher, why does this one not care about food but my friends dog does, how come this dog is nervous, anxious, fearful etc., don’t all dogs come pre-programmed in our language? It can also be said that there are false promises floating around out there (in cyber space, in ads), false beliefs that any dog can be trained to do anything, at any level, and so on.
Because dogs, like us, are all different, learn and retain at different rates, were built for differing tasks, have different emotional responses to environments, stressers and go through similar stages of growth (of course in a sped up manner) as children do, then we should treat their education like our child’s education … don’t stop after the first class. Need an even better reason? Dog’s don’t speak our language, so that makes continuing education even more important for them as it helps them to navigate our world, our requirements, our rules and our relationships.
Let me put it a different way. I tend to liken the stages of dog training to children’s grades at school. Puppy training is like nursery school or kindergarten. You would never stop your child’s education at that level, likely not many work places are going to be checking the pre-school results in order for your child to gain employment. The same goes for dogs. Puppy training is an initial stage, a primer, and introduction on how to learn. Puppies don’t retain things the same as adult dogs do (very similar to young children), so it’s very important to continue forward in their education throughout the aging process as they often need reminders, help and guidance many times before they reach a year of age.
Once they have worked through the early stages of puppy training, and remember these should be easy, fun and light-hearted, building a dog who enjoys learning, they need to be introduced to the next stage of training which can be likened to grades 1-8 for children. This does not mean that you have to take 8 levels of training classes, or retain a trainer for 8 months to accomplish this. This just means that once you have a training goal, you need to understand your follow through education plan for an older puppy/dog who can retain better, work longer, but will still need reminders and help as they grow.
Dogs are not robots, and make mistakes, “forget” things, have bad days, get tired, get sore, get pushy and thrown fits just like the kiddos (and hell, most adults), so it is important not to forget this as often, it seems, once dogs reach a certain age, people have a view that dogs should be perfect after one set of classes, or after 6 months of age, and this is so far from the truth that it’s not even funny.
Your next stage of training, the “teenage” dog, can be compared to high school, including all the back talk, attitude and tough guy stuff. Yeah, you can get a job right out of high school, but don’t they tell us humans never to stop learning? And don’t you still have a whole lot of life learning to do after this stage? Apply that to your dog. Sure you can be done the more difficult stuff after this stage, but there are so many benefits to adding to your dogs vocabulary and skills, why not train their brain further? At this stage, usually all the hard work is done, but practice makes progress, and practice maintains progress, and if you don’t practice what you learn, you can loose those skills. It’s not always like riding a bike or driving a standard … sometimes you forget. And sometimes the dog forgets … or gets rusty … or needs oiling … or … well you get the point.
The bottom line to all of this? Never stop training and practicing with your dog. Your dog benefits, the relationship benefits, their retention of skills and behaviours benefits, your vocabulary increases, overall it’s just highly beneficial, and truly in the end, a dog who uses their mind on a daily basis, will live a happier, more satisfied life, so what more motivation do you need to get out there and keep working your dogs?