When I picked up little eight-week-old Jackson to bring him home, one of the things to which I agreed was that I would take him to obedience school. I happily agreed, partially because even though I had lived with dogs my entire life I had not had a puppy in fifteen years, and partially because my breeder was in the process of becoming the person in the dog community who I respected and trusted above all others. However, in the back of my mind, I thought, "Well, it will be a nice refresher but I'm sure I know everything I need to know to train this puppy!"
Oh, how wrong I was about that!
You see, my hubby and I could have trained Jackson to sit, lay down, stay, come when called, and walk nicely on a leash without help. I think we could have pulled it off on our own and we would have raised a nice dog. I mean, we haven't had a class on raising the human kids and they're all turning out ok.
The thing is, though, why try to wrangle dog training on your own when there are these extraordinary people roaming the world, looking like normal ordinary people, who are really magical wizards or fairy dog-mothers with a vast understanding of your dog's brain and body, who can teach you how to give your dog the best possible life ever?
I seem to write about the importance of working with a professional trainer each and every time I sit down to write a blog, and there is a reason for that. I firmly believe that dog trainers can help owners solve a massive amount of the issues that lead to owner surrenders. Not to mention, not only is the dog owner happier when their dog is nicely trained and knows the rules of the house, but the dog is happier when she knows what is expected of her and how to approach each situation!
You see, the whole reason we love dogs so much is the same thing that makes some people throw up their hands and think that life with that particular dog is impossible: they cannot speak English, and their brains work differently than ours. It is the proverbial blessing and a curse.
Honestly, aside from the fact that they are furry, adorable, walk on four legs and don't have thumbs, what really sets them apart from humans is that they live in the moment, they are not afraid to show complete and utter joy when happy, they never "get in their heads" or lie, cheat, steal. And while that is all part of what makes us love them, it makes it so that a lot of humans have a hard time teaching them things. But dog trainers know how the canine brain works, and their superpower is acting as a translator between humans and dogs to help everyone get on the same page!
What I love the most about watching dog trainers in action, at least the ones who use a positive reinforcement, reward-based approach, is that they are so calm and easy going and make training your dog seem so easy, and how it really can be that easy if you just follow their instructions! In fact, the inspiration behind this post is that last weekend I was "booth-neighbors" at a local dog rescue fundraising event with a trainer from the same facility where I trained both Jackson and Tinkerbell. As we ran our booths in the vendor area, I spent much of the day chatting with the trainer and basically eavesdropping on her conversations with the dog owners who were attending the event, and I realized just how happy I am to watch a trainer in action.
One family was having some sort of issue with their 3 small dogs when someone comes to the front door. I missed the first part of the conversation but I watched as the trainer so easily explained a solution in which they could train the dogs to all run to their kennels and get rewarded with treats every time the doorbell rang, so that it would break the cycle of the dogs doing whatever unwanted behavior they did at the front door. I listened as she explained how to do this, how to practice it by ringing the front door and going through the whole series of events a few times a day, and that pretty soon the dogs would just associate the doorbell ringing with running to their crates and getting food, so that they would begin to view the ringing doorbell with happiness and joy. She was so fun to watch, so relaxed, so confident in this answer and I watched as the owners had a visual "ah-ha" moment just like I have had before when working with a trainer, thinking, "Oh my gosh, that is so simple yet so genius!"
As the crowds thinned and we waited for the official booth tear down time, I laughed as I told her some of the things that my super smart Jackson had taught himself based on some of my puppy rearing practices. For example, when Jax was a puppy and he would get into stuff that was off-limits, I would tell him a firm "no" and then redirect his attention with a toy or antler, and shower him with praise and affection.
Jackson to this day remembers that sequence of behaviors, and will intentionally jump on the sofa, grab a contraband item, look at me to make sure I see him, and then start to destroy the item until I jump up, tell him "no" and watch as he wags his big thick otter tail with a mischievous doggie grin on his face, and grabs a toy for me to play with him. He has been doing this for seven years, and only touches contraband items when I am present and in the room. I can leave him in the room as I go about other activities, and he never touches a thing. It is 100% for my benefit and to get me to play.
I have also noticed that every time the dogs play a round of Zoomies and Bitey Face, that after they are done, Jax runs to the back door and stands there to go outside. Every. Single. Time. For the longest time I thought he really had to go outside to go potty, but then I realized (when he just stood on the deck and looked at me) that he was still going through the sequence of events that we used to do when he was a puppy and we were house-training him, when the rule was that every time he got done playing, it was time for a potty break.
The funny thing is that we trained Tinkerbell exactly the same way, teaching her which items were hers and which were not, and using the same house-training method, and she learned the lessons but not this exact sequence of events. This is why we call him "Sheldon Cooper smart" because he is such a stickler for routine and absolutely the most intelligent dog I have ever met in my life. I tell him all the time that he needs to be more dog-like, but he just snorts and walks away...like a dog.
But back to my fabulous fangirl day watching a dog trainer at work, as I relayed the stories of Jackson's odd habits, I told her that I was trying to break the first behavior by simply ignoring him with the hope that if I did not reward him with playing, that he would stop snatching up my magazines and the remote control for the TV, but it was not working. She calmly and quickly offered up the suggestion to insert another behavior in between those 2 things, so to correct him, then have him go through some commands like sit, down, etc, and it would break the association between stealing stuff and getting momma's attention. Um...GENIUS!
I have watched other trainers in action with someone's dog who they have never met, and I just love how calm they are, how their mannerisms are so simple and yet the dogs hang onto their every word and movement and immediately seem to trust them as their leader. Just like human educators, I think these are some of the professionals who need to be paid about 20 times whatever their current salary is, because they are in possession of knowledge that can literally save the lives of dogs who were taught the wrong things early on in life or whose owners are at their wits end and about to surrender them to a shelter.
The next time you are around a dog trainer, hang back and just watch them in action, and you will see what I mean. And make sure you tell them thank you for what they do for dogs because they truly have magical powers.