If You Have a Dog You Are a Trainer

Whenever I am out in public and speak with people, whether it's at a social gathering or just meeting someone, I often hear the question "What do you do for a living?" When I tell people my profession, it almost always sparks curiosity and genuine interest. Of course, as any dog trainer will tell you, it also stimulates about a trillion questions— which is why I sometimes cringe when I know the "what do you do" question is about to be asked. However, most of the time it is fun to talk about and a good topic of conversation.

One of the most common questions I hear is, "How old does my dog have to be to start training?" My answer has always been the same: "From the minute you get your dog home, you are training her. If you have a dog, you are a trainer." Often this response earns me confused looks. After all, most people have heard things like, "Wait until the dog is six months old before training" or, "Get your dog into puppy classes at twelve to sixteen weeks."

Thirty years ago, the six-month rule was fairly common. This was due, in part, to the fact that all too often training classes in those days involved strong physical corrections, and a puppy younger than six months might be physically or emotionally damaged if she was trained that way before the six-month mark. As you can well imagine, putting a 12-week-old puppy on a choke chain and administering sharp leash corrections was generally a very harsh way to train, and sometimes caused real problems.

Fortunately—and this is one of the good things that has happened in the last 10 to 12 years—training methods have become far gentler. It is also pretty much universally understood in the training community that a great deal of effective training can be accomplished with puppies at a very young age. We have many trainers to thank for this, including such visionaries as Dr. Ian Dunbar. Trainers like Dunbar and others, including the ones in my company, have tried to communicate the importance of formal training at a young age.

Formal training—that is, training with a professional instructor in group or private lessons, or even in a kennel—can and does start much earlier now than in the past. However, my "if you have a dog, you are a trainer" answer goes a bit deeper than that. What I would like owners to understand in this chapter is that any time you interact with your dog, you are teaching your dog something. All too often what happens is that owners inadvertently teach their dogs the wrong lessons, without realizing they're teaching lessons at all. This makes it tougher to train the dogs formally later on. Let's look at some examples.

Dog Training 101

Dog Training 101

If you own a dog, you will have to do more than just feed him and give him toys to play with. Just about every dog, no matter what breed, will have some bad habits and behaviors that you will need to break.

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