Someone asked me the other day what my number one tip is for dog training. Huh. Good question.
To be honest I wasn’t exactly sure. I answered something along the lines that all dogs are different and it’s important to use techniques that suit the dog and I didn’t think there was any one thing that could work as a magic tool. Besides there are so many important aspects that go into dog training like proper leadership and communication, using rewards correctly and being able to understand how your actions impact your dog that I don’t think you can select one and exclude the others.
The question stayed with me for a few days though and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Surely there is a simple answer to this? There are so many tips I give out to my clients at workshops or during coaching sessions and through my written training plans couldn’t I just pick one? Is it communicating and using the marker word? Is it being consistent no matter what? Is it being careful not to reward the wrong thing and rewarding the right thing instead? Is it mastering the walk? These are all important aspects of dog training but I didn’t think any of them would be my choice for my “number one training tip”.
It wasn’t until I was practicing with my dogs to return to a calm state when I entered the house through a different doorway (if anyone is interested in firstly why I’m doing this or would like further info on how I’m doing it please leave me a comment) that I realised what my number one training tip is.
It’s something that I tell almost all of my clients at some point and is one of the most important lessons my dogs have taught me.
It is the simple act of patience.
Now this may seem anticlimactic to some especially if you were expecting some great new thing but ultimately every aspect of your interactions and training with your dog can be improved with patience.
Now you can ask anyone (especially my dad) patience was never a virtue of mine growing up. In fact I was pretty impatient and would quickly and easily get frustrated when things didn’t work out how I wanted immediately. I did get a bit better at this as I grew up but it wasn’t until I was training my own dogs that I came to appreciate patience as a skill. This is a tool I use on a daily basis with my own dogs and with all the dogs I work with.
Often people are too quick to give commands and repeat them over and over, getting more frustrated each time until the dog finally does what they are asked or the owner gives up and says the dog just doesn’t listen. Or we are too busy rushing from one activity to another and we wonder why our dogs are so hyper, over excited and always pull on the lead when we go for a walk if we even get a chance to go out at all.
And yes there are different training techniques to assist with these issues but throughout them all you must also have patience.
Patience to give your dog a chance to do what you ask, patience to take the time to fully teach your dog a new skill before you expect immediate compliance, patience to look at your dog and pick up on all the physical clues and communication they are sending you about how they are feeling and the patience to put their needs ahead of your own. Have the patience to wait your dog out when they are over excited until they have calmed down, have the patience to take the time to properly prepare for going for a walk instead of rushing out the door and have the patience to let your dog figure out for themselves what will work to get them what they want. Dogs learn better that way.
Both Zeus and Pepper (pictured above) learnt within a few minutes to sit if they wanted attention from me.