10 Tips for an effective K9 Training Session

  1. Have a Goal
    Have a clear, describable goal - body movement, gait, focus, speed

    Have a clear, describable goal – body movement, gait, focus, speed

    Don’t train a whole routine all at once if you still have kinks to work out. Go into training with a clear, identifiable goal. Work specifics like leash handling, speed, alert, converging odors or that perfect heel. Be clear what your expectations are, even write them down. Have a realistic outcome in mind.

  2. Have a Gameplan
    Once you know, what exactly you want to work on, have a plan on how to achieve your set goal. Don’t go on the field or in your search area just ‘winging it’ – that will lead to frustration and is not very effective. Don’t hesitate to deviate from your start plan though, if you see a new (or old) issue arise. For example, if your goal is to work on your leash handling and your dog all of a sudden shows issues with distractions, change plan. Concentrate on one issue, don’t try to tackle two or three problems in the same training run – most of the time, that is not only less effective, it can also create a whole other set of issues.

  3. Tailor the length of training to your dog’s abilities
    This should hardly come as a surprise, but we often tend to forget and train longer than we should, because we ‘set aside this amount of time’ or we ‘paid for an hour with a trainer’. But training is can be more effective when we cut it short, depending on the circumstance. A puppy or young dog has a different attention span than an adult dog. A dog, who recently was sick or injured may also not be able to concentrate as long as a healthy dog. Hot weather might call for a shorter training and so does a new environment, if your dog is easily distracted. Know your dog and know your dog’s attention span.

  4. Stop while you are still having fun and don’t train, when you’re emotional
    Still having fun...

    Still having fun…

    This ties into the above issue. Don’t train until you don’t have your dog’s attention anymore. If you have to ask yourself: ‘Should I do one more?’ – the answer is ‘No!’ more often than not. End on a high note. Don’t get frustrated. If you don’t feel up for training, if you’re angry at something or someone, if you are already frustrated – don’t start training. Instead relax and play or just cuddle with your dog. Pick up training when you feel calm. This doesn’t only lead to a more reliable and stable dog, but it also improves your bond and keeps the trust between the two of you.

     

  5. Take care of your training aids
    Your training aids are important. Leashes, collars, toys, food, odor/scent articles, whatever you need for your training, needs to be in tip top shape. The best game plan won’t help you, if your training odor is off or you have the wrong reward toy/food. This is especially important for scent detection training. Know what you are training with, know your aids and know your tools.

    Bed bug vials are used for scent detection dogs

    Bed bug vials are used for scent detection dogs

  6. Maintain a training log
    A training log can help you identify issues, help troubleshoot and solving those issues and re-create training scenarios. It can also help in developing a good strategy for your next training. It is your ‘black-on-white’ memory.

  7. Variety is your friend
    Train in many different environments

    Train in many different environments

    Once your dog shows you the behavior you are asking for, change the environment. Change the reward. Change the odor amount, if you are doing scent detection. You never know, what you will encounter at a trial, competition or work place. Train with distractions, outside, inside, day time, night time, shiny floors, dark corners, spectators. Change the containers you use to keep the odor for your scent detection. Use different leashes. Vary the amount of food for reward or time you play with your dog. Use your training log to record the environment you trained in.

  8. Wear proper training attire
    Closed-toed shoes are a must, unless you don’t mind your dog pushing himself off on your bare foot, leaving behind painful scratches and bruises. Make sure, you have everything on you that is needed for your training, such as reward and leash. Be prepared and have a first aid kit nearby.

  9. Give your dog a break
    Dogs need breaks to process what they learned. There are numerous studies, not only on rats and humans, but also on dogs, showing, that given some downtime, the individuals outperformed others, who did not get a break. Additional to the increase in performance, downtime provides opportunity for a quick canine first aid check (temperature, scratches, etc.) and hydration.

  10. The Power of Videotaping your training
    Make sure, your dog is used to the video camera

    Make sure, your dog is used to the video camera

    When you are working your dog, there are lots of things going through your mind. Leash handling, environment, controlling/not controlling your dog, anticipating… Nuances and subtleties are quickly overlooked – yet that’s what makes us progress. If you have video of your training, you can sit back after working (give your dog a break) and study each aspect of the run. How did you move that leash? What was your body language telling the dog? What was the dog’s behavior telling you? We all get set in repetition and with repetitions come handler errors. The dog alerts away from source, because you don’t reward at source. The dog anticipates a recall because of your leg movement. Nothing will show your mistakes as honestly as a video.

     

There is a number 11, a simple step, which is so often overlooked: use common sense. If your gut tells you, that something doesn’t feel right, stop, take a step back and think. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. A responsible trainer will discuss your feelings with you and make necessary changes to the training plan.

 

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Turning a Rescue into a Rescuer

I often get asked about how to become involved with Search and Rescue. Usually, someone tells me that their dog is the ultimate search machine and will find them/their toy/food in a matter of seconds, no matter where in the house they are. Or they just got a German Shepherd and are now looking for something to do with their dog. Here is some information about what Search and Rescue training entails. First let’s talk about different areas of SAR. These are some of the more common ones:

  • Urban Search and Rescue (Disaster)
    coloradoThese are the teams who are deployed when disaster hits, such as a tornado, hurricane or earthquake. Just hours after the devastating tornadoes hit Oklahoma City in May 2013, multiple disaster dog teams were on scene, working tirelessly to find survivors, buried underneath rubble piles. Often the dogs work independently from their handlers, sometimes, for safety reasons, the handlers are not even close to the dogs. Usually, these dogs have a bark alert, meaning, they will bark to indicate a live victim. Unlike some of the wilderness SAR dogs, they will  not leave the victim and they will wait for the handler to come to them, thus minimizing the risk of navigating the rubble. With the bark alert, they do not need to be in view of their handlers. On occasions, the handler gives the K9 a command to change direction, using hand signals.
  • Avalanche
    Avalanche dogs are trained to find survivors of avalanches. Many sources quote the Swiss army to be the first ones to have trained Avalanche dogs and/or date the first incident of a dog finding survivors in avalanches in the 1930s. However, Barry, a famous St. Bernard from Switzerland, saved many lives back in 1800. Here is another link to the history of St. Bernards as avalanche dogs: Smithonian. I fondly remember visiting Barry, who’s body is an exhibit in the Natural History Museum in Berne, Switzerland. Avalanche dogs have a long history not only in Switzerland but in many other countries, who have snow year-round. These dogs efficiently cover a wide area almost impossible for people to search. Nowhere else is time as much of essence as after an avalanche. 66% of avalanche victims die after within the first 30 minutes (Avalanche Survival Curve).  Avalanche dogs normally start digging as part of their alert.
  • Wilderness/Tracking
    chinoWilderness Search and Rescue is often sent, when hikers have gone missing. In some cases, the teams are looking for physically and/or mentally disabled people (e.g. Alzheimer patients). They have to cover a large, sometimes mountainous area or deep forests. Tracking dogs, much like disaster dogs, do not have a specific person’s scent – they are to find any live person in distress. Unlike disaster and avalanche dogs, they are usually trained not to stay with the victim, but to come back to the handler. Their alert varies, but a common alert is to take an object from their collar into their mouth and bring it to their handler (Bringsel). Tracking dogs often are out of their handlers view, working independently through brushes and obstacles.
  • Wilderness/Trailing
    Just as Tracking dogs, Trailing dogs search for lost persons. The difference is, Tracking dogs are trained to follow a specific odor, making them the number one choice K9s for Law Enforcement searching for criminals. If the dogs are handled by the Police in search of a felon, they are most likely trained to apprehend and bite – unless they are Bloodhounds. In which case the found person may get slobbered. 😉
  • Search and Recovery
    Search and Recovery is just as important as rescuing people. For families and friends, it is crucial to get closure and to be able to recover the body of the missing person. For Law Enforcement, Search and Recovery can solve a crime. Recovery dogs can be trained to find crime scenes, blood, bones (including historic bones, such as old burial grounds, etc.) and dead bodies. Some of these dogs are efficient water dogs, working on boats to find bodies underwater.

All these dogs have one thing in common: they can efficiently do the job of many people and machines. Some say, one dog is as efficient as 150 people. They are able to cover a large ground in a short time. And their noses are an invaluable tool to save lives.

frida20Now we get to the next subject – the dog. Finding anything in the house does not make a dog a blooming star on the K9 SAR sky. Focus and drive are necessary, but also the ability to work independently, fearlessness, balance to navigate difficult terrain (think piles on piles of rubble and wood or fields of snow), willingness to stay on odor and at the victim, be absolutely trustworthy with strangers (solid temperament) and most importantly, work tirelessly and focused even under stress. Ideally, a dog is not older than 2 years, when SAR training starts. Never had a broken limb or a seizure. They can’t be tiny or they won’t be able reach every inch of a rubble pile. They can’t be too big either or they won’t be as agile.

Dogs like that are very, very rare. In fact, if you know of one who’s looking for a home, please don’t hesitate to contact me!  I picked the title ‘Turning a Rescue into a Rescuer’ because many SAR dogs are shelter dogs, rescued from high kill shelters, often dumped there by people, who were not able to handle such energy. One organization who focuses on training such dogs is the non-profit National Search Dog Foundation. They provide trained K9s to handlers from FEMA teams nationwide since 1995.

Now that we established the type of dog we need for SAR, let’s have a look at the other end of the leash, the handler. SAR training and work is not for the couch potatoes, we all know that. But are you able to climb a ladder with your dog on your shoulders? Work hours after hours in burning heat on a pile of broken concrete slabs or dig through a mountain of wood pallets including rusty nails until you’re on top of it?fridawood Hike for days or run through forests, steep hills or ski through treacherous snow? And if the answer is yes, are you ready to commit almost all your free time to training – you and your dog? Spend money on gas and seminars, books and equipment and not ever expect to be paid back? Are you able to leave work on a moment’s notice to be deployed for an unknown amount of days or weeks?

If you are still interested in joining a SAR group, contact your local Sheriff’s department, a fire department or a SAR organization in your area, such as CARDA. They might invite you to take part in their training for a while before they (and you) commit. Many teams will gladly accept help in form of ‘victims’, who pose for their dogs. There is much to be learned while playing victim! Many groups are also always looking for new training grounds. Some teams may have open trainings and often times will allow the public to watch certifications.

For even more in-depth information, click here for an online class about K9 SAR.

Why it is a good idea to not leave a dog in the backyard

Now don’t get me wrong. I do think, most dogs love the outside – at least mine do, and I love the idea to be able to provide my dogs with some off-leash time outside, where they can run, sniff and (yes, admittedly) dig a hole to their hearts desire. But I don’t leave them outside without supervision, or at the very least, I’m always close, listening and ready to react. Here are some reasons why it is not a good idea to leave your dog outside without watching them.

Scaling the Fence

fridajump3No, of course my dogs would not scale our 6-feet fences. Or would they? Well, they have. Fortunately, they know who feeds them and who has their favorite dog bed. They did not stray far. In fact, one staid on the couch, while the other one barked at our neighbor’s door until he opened, where upon she ran past him to play with her friend, the neighbor’s dog. We have since fortified our fences, fixed the whole and now even feature double fences. Even the most balanced, exercised dogs can decide to make a go for it, when they discover a hole or a rotten piece of wooden fence.

We had a crazy person opening backyard doors in the neighborhood where we lived before. So even if your fences are bomb proof, you never know what’s going to happen. Add the hated neighbor cat down the street, a couple of fast cars and you have the recipe for a disaster.

Unwelcome visitors

I would have never thought it would be possible, but this last weekend made me realize, that I have not seen it all. I do not let our dogs lose in our backyard without being very alert to their behavior. When I heard them bark, the thought crossed my mind, that it was just our neighbor, cutting his tree next to our fence, like he did the days before. But the barks sounded different, so I went and looked. I could not see anything, but there were abnormal noises from the neighbor’s side. I decided to take the dogs inside, when all of a sudden I saw a big brown dog scale our fence, which is in itself 6 feet high and on top of that there is a big bush, which adds about another 4 feet. Well, this dog decided to work his way through the bush. Fortunately, I was able to get the dogs inside just before that visitor hit our backyard ground or it would have meant a bloodbath, as my female dog is quite territorial. Here’s the real kicker though – our neighbor does not have a dog! So I never expected danger in form of a dog from this side. A neighbor four doors (and backyards) down, dogsat for a friend, put the dog in his backyard and drove away. Fortunately, the dog had tags with phone numbers on his collar and I was not afraid of him, so the situation got resolved quickly. But I do not want to even imagine what would have happened, if I had ignored my dogs or – even worse – I would have left them outside and went away.

Now, again, I have double fences on all sides, except towards that neighbor, who does not have a dog!

Danger lurking in the backyard

Have you ever replanted something? Used a new fertilizer? Found a dead animal hidden in the bushes of your backyard? Maybe improved the looks of your garden with some fresh mulch? Found some exotic herbs or flowers? Even though your dog may have never dug a hole, ate a plant or munched on freshly added fertilizer, it may just happen. And it might have a catastrophic outcome. I know of a dog who died after drinking from water which was close to a tree, which, after an abnormal amount of rain, was dripping a lot of sap into that water. That particular tree sap was poisonous and unfortunately killed the dog.

Animals, killed by poison such as rat poison, may smell like a delicious in-between meal for our furry friends, but proof to be deadly. While you control the pesticide in your garden, your neighbor might have a different idea of getting rid of unwanted guests. Rats and/or other animals poisoned by your neighbor might end up on your lawn, being a risk for your dogs.

Poisonous risks aside – there are other dangers in your backyard. Even your dog playing with fallen branches from your trees might cause a hefty vet bill, if said branch ends up stuck in your dog’s throat. Or, if your dog wears a collar, he or she might suffocate while being hung somewhere in a bush. Yes, that is a very pessimistic way to spoil the idyllic  picture of dogs happily playing in your backyard, but it might just happen. By the way, there is an easy fix on the collar thing: the breakaway collar still gives you the safety of being able to have a collar (and tags!) on your dog while preventing suffocation accidents.

And everything else

coyoteOh, yes, if you can think of it, it can happen. A couple of months ago, I was just able to get the dogs inside before a huge swarm of bees occupied our backyard. While some of you say, that swarming bees won’t sting anyone, I was not about to try that out with our old man, who loves to snap at everything tiny that’s flying. And we don’t live out in the boonies! What if your dog turns out to be allergic to a bee sting? If you are not scared by bees, what about rattle snakes? Scorpions? Yes, I was laughing at that one, too, until I found one on a walk one day. We live in Southern California, in the suburbs, not on some sort of farm land. You know the dangers of your area best.

What can you do?

Some dogs prefer the outside. Some people prefer the dogs to be outside. It’s all legitimate, if precautions are being taken and it is clear, that there are risks, that may not necessarily be the same for a dog, who has access to the indoors. If a dog is to stay outside, I prefer a nice, safe kennel. When you build it yourself, make sure, you have a solid foundation, don’t just buy a kennel from Home Depot and put it up. Make sure, that you have an area that provides shade at all times and enough water. If your dog stays outside in all weather and day and night, make sure, you provide shelter for your dog, be that from the heat or the cold. Be certain, that the drinking water does not freeze. Personally, I prefer a kennel to be situated, where neither a neighbor nor someone from the street has access to. Yes, I’m paranoid like that.

If you don’t have space for a kennel, check your fences regularly. Make sure, that they are high enough for your dog not to be able to jump over them. Add a second fence for safety, if you think it’s necessary. Check on your dogs often. Make sure they have ample water and shade or shelter from the cold. Know their bark! Learn to distinguish their ‘it’s the mailman’ bark from the ‘there’s an intruder’ or ‘I’m hurt!’ bark. Act fast, when you think there’s something wrong. Let your vet know that your dog has been outside unsupervised if something happens and also inform him or her of any new additions to your backyard (plants, fertilizer, pest control). Use a breakaway collar for your dogs with tags. Microchip your dogs!

Finally, obedience train your dogs and exercise them daily. Tired dogs are less likely to go hunting for neighbor’s cat. They are also less likely to be anxious and scale the fence to go look for you. Obedient dogs will come when you call them and you are more likely to be able to bring them to safety, if some coyotes are wandering into your backyard.

Heat Wave – Protect Your Dog!

Summer has finally taken a hot grip on our days – while this can mean fun in the water, surfing and chilling at the pool, it can also be potentially dangerous for our furry friends. There are the obvious lethal situations, like keeping dogs in hot cars, which by now, we should all know, can be like ovens at a moment’s notice. Only 10 minutes are enough to rise the temperature by about 20 degrees.

Provide places for your dog to cool down in your backyard

But that’s not all: dogs regulate their body temperature by panting and evaporating water. This means that they need water in the first place, and the air has to be dry and circulated enough to be more saturated with evaporated water. So it’s not just the heat, a closed environment like a crate in a car, no windows open and no water available can send a dog in heat distress even though temperatures may not be over 75 degrees. This is also the reason, why it may not be a good idea to hose down your dog before getting in a confined space like a closed car or a crate, as the wet fur acts like a sauna environment and the air around your dog will saturate with moisture almost immediately, rendering your dog unable to decrease its body temperature by panting.

But it’s also the less obvious situation which can be harmful for your dog. When walking your pooch, try to stay on cool surfaces. Hot asphalt can burn your dog’s paws in no time. Playing fetch or work in hot weather can overheat your K9 partner, seniors, puppies or overweight dogs can even show signs of hyperthermia during a walk outside. If your dog has difficulties breathing or is prone to it like some breeds (Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs or Penkingese for example), they may not be able to control their body temperature as well as other dogs.

Take your dog swimming

If you leave your dog in your backyard during the day, make sure, there is ample shade and fresh water. When temperatures reach triple digits, your dog may be safer in an AC cooled down house – or have someone check on your dog when you are away.

Some dogs do better with their fur shaven, however, check with breed experts or your vet, as some dogs need the long fur as a protection from the sun. Some dogs who do not have fur like the Chinese Crested or the Mexican Hairless (Xoloitzcuintle) may need additional protection like a light shirt or even sunscreen.

Here are some signs your dog may display when in heat distress:

  • Very heavy panting and visible difficulties breathing
  • Because blood is flowing close to the surface to cool down, the mucous membranes appear very red
  • Possible vomiting
  • Staggering, unsteady walk
  • Anxiety
  • Dry gums and/or excessive salivating
  • Possible bloody diarrhea

When shock sets in, the dog may collapse, seizure and the mucous membranes may turn pale. This is when help may be too late and the dog is about to die. Heat distress is very serious and recognizing the signs may be life saving. Once hyperthermia hits, it may be too late.

Watch your dog for signs of heat distress

If your dog displays signs of heat distress, try to cool her down as fast as possible. Move your dog into a cool environment, use cold water on the stomach, between the legs and extremities such as outside of the ears and top of the head. Do not use ice water. Check the temperature and bring your dog to a vet as fast as possible to make sure, no permanent damage has been caused. Effects from hyperthermia can show days after the incident and can be just as life threatening.

It is important to know your dog’s normal body temperature to be able to determine when it is dangerously elevated. Take your dog’s rectal temperature once a week or more often to get your dog used to it and to find out the average level. When you go for a walk with your pooch, bring water for you and your dog. But most importantly, use common sense. If you are too hot, your dog could be uncomfortable, too.

America’s Rescue Dogs Got Talent!

Search and Rescue dog Frida at a training after finding a live ‘victim’

Watching one of the recent ‘America’s Got Talent’ and seeing the group of rescue dogs performing amazing tricks, reminded me of all the working rescue dogs out there. While we appreciate dogs, who were bred to relentlessly work on finding those roadside explosive devices or flushing out terrorists and criminals, there are more dogs coming out of a rescue situation, proving that they are just as excellent in doing their job. The National Search Dog Foundationis a non-profit organization, founded in 1996 by Wilma Melville, after she worked with her dog at the terrorist-bombed Federal Building in Oklahoma City and realized, that there are not enough search and rescue dog teams in the Nation. The organization has volunteers and staff members combing through shelters throughout the country to find canines who fulfill the extraordinary skills it takes for them to become a search dog. They train the dogs, once rescued and now to become rescuers, and their handlers. Some of their dog teams have been at the 9/11 grounds, searched areas after Hurricane Katrina, went to Haiti and Japan, working hour after hour to find any living survivors. However dire the situation, when the search dogs appear, everything just seems a little bit better and a glimpse of hope returns.

Searching for bed bugs

But the Search Dog Foundation is not the only organization who employs former shelter dogs. Many groups turn to shelters in order to find those unadoptable high drive and toy crazy dogs. Often these dogs have been turned in by their owners, because they were not able to handle them, in some cases, they may have turned aggressive over their toys. Sometimes, the dogs would jump the fence over and over again, because they were just too bored. Dogs, who need a job, cannot be tired out by a brisk walk in the morning. They need a lot of mental exercise, high drive play, strenuous physical exercise and obedience training – not necessarily something, a typical pet dog owner knows how to do.

Finding a dog at the shelter and train it for work is as rewarding as winning the lottery for me, but it is also very hard to turn away a dog, who almost has the potential and may be too much for a pet, but is not quite there. For most sad stories, there are successes though. My own personal dog, Frida, who got rescued from a shelter in Los Angeles, is a Search and Rescue dog and I have been fortunate to since find and train dogs for many other jobs, such as cellphone, explosive, narcotics and contraband detection, even e.coli and bed bug detection. With the right dog, any K9 job can be done – there are many talents and hidden treasures in our shelters!

If you are toying with the idea of rescuing a dog, here is a starter on how to find the right companion for you. And how to select a dog from a breeder vs. a rescue. Most shelters and rescue organizations are looking for volunteers to walk or foster their dogs. This may be a good idea to get started and find out more about the responsibility of what it means to own a dog!

Contraband detection K9 during a break

K9 Nose Work (R) – A Fun and Competitive Sport for Everybody!

When I first started K9 Nose Work (R) with my old Shar Pei mix, I did it because I wanted to give my dog an outlet, a job, where we could spend time together aside from the all working dog environment I’m in most of the time. I had no expectations and was pleasantly surprised at how this sport was already well defined and professional, while still keeping it fun.

Exterior Search


Simba, my old male dog, does not like close contact with other male dogs and Nose Work was ideal for him. Although he still likes to goof around, he takes his sniffing seriously and soon got the hang of the game. He has surprised me many times, working and finding the target odor and showing it to me, when I thought, he was just playing around. And yes, he even managed to give me condescending look, waiting for his reward, while I was still scrambling to open the pouch with his hot dogs inside.

K9 Nose Work (R) is a nation wide competitive sport for all kind of dogs. No breed is excluded and I’ve seen everything from Havanese  and Bernese Mountain Dogs to Great Danes. And of course the Shepherds and Labradors. There’s always the Shepherds and the Labradors. Goal of the sport is for the dog to ultimately find three odors: Birch, Anise and Clove. The odors are hidden anywhere, really, some of the founders are known to be very tricky with their hides. In a trial, several situations have to be passed, among them an inside room search, an exterior search and a vehicle search. You’ll feel like in a thriller, handling your dog like a pro bomb detection dog handler, even if your dog is a 12 pound Chihuahua! While the training does not compare to real life K9 detection, it focuses on the dog’s natural instinct of hunting behaviors. This is the sport, where we the dog teaches us, instead of the other way around. Maybe that is why it is so perfect for dogs with fear issues. I have seen dogs, too afraid to enter a room, to enthusiastically search that same room 2 weeks later!

This fun and educational sport started about 6 years ago, in 2006 and exploded in popularity almost immediately. There are now classes and competitions all over the Nation as pet dog owners finally have a competitive sport, that does not require a specific breed or an athlete handler. I not only recommend it to all my clients who want to do ‘something’ with their dogs, but also to those, who’s dogs are reactive when seeing other dogs, as there are never two dogs in the same room. I have seen amazing turnarounds in dogs – and in owners! But most of all, it is an exciting team work and something, you can work on at home or even incorporate in your daily walks.

For more information about K9 Nose Work visit www.funnosework.com or Rock Solid K9’s website.

How to Train Your Dog – a Practical Short Guide

No, this is not going to turn your dog into an elite university graduate over night, but hopefully, it will help you and give you some tools to get started as your own dog’s trainer. Let’s break it down in 5 easy to follow parts:

Rewards can come in different shapes or form. This dog likes toys much better than food.

  • Motivation
  • Training Time
  • Training Plan
  • Corrections
  • Expectations

Motivation
This is both for you and your dog! You don’t like to work for free, do you? Well, neither does your dog. Find out, what makes your dog tick the most. Yes, we all think, our dogs will do anything for a pat on the shoulders, but I haven’t seen a dog turn down a tasty treat yet. For training, we want small, soft treats, like hot dog or string cheese pieces, that can be chewed fast, so the dog is ready to continue. Size matters! A German Shepherd will probably need a different size treat than a Chihuahua. Training with food reward is a good way to keep training motivational. It does not mean, that you need to keep treats in your pocket for the next 15 years. Yes, your dog should obey your commands, but he needs to learn them first! I love REI’s treat pouches– it makes carrying and dispensing treats so much easier. If your dog turns his nose on what you offer him, you’ll have to try different treats until you find that one that makes him salivate at the pure thought of it. I’ve seen people train with Cheetos or french fries!  You, on the other hand, need to be motivated as well. Don’t get frustrated, if things don’t work out right away. Be patient and have fun with it!

Training Time
Don’t drag the training out – stop while both of you still have fun! Even if it is just 5 minutes, it is valuable. The best thing is to have a couple of short and sweet trainings throughout the day. Don’t start when you just come home from work and you’re still stressed. You should train when your mindset is relaxed and stress free.

Training Plan
Always have a plan before you start your training. Know exactly what you want your dog to do, so you can teach him precisely that. If you have a big trick in mind, start slow and break it into pieces – for example, if you want to teach your dog to go hide in a box, don’t start with the whole thing. Start with rewarding him when he goes close to the box, then put his feet in the box, reward him sitting down and eventually work on him laying in the box. Do every step multiple times until he does it reliably, before you move to the next. Read up on different training methods and styles before you start. And always, always be consistent and patient.

Heeling

Corrections
Once your dog knows what you ask of him, we can talk about corrections. Know your dog. Some dogs are more sensitive than others. If you do apply corrections, they need to be fair and the timing has to be great. Use enough to get your dog’s attention but as little as necessary. Inform yourself about different correction methods and be cautious about those which promise instant results. In the end, it is better to use one good correction than 50 weak ones. A correction can be a verbal (e.g. ‘No!’) or a physical (e.g. quick tug on the leash). It can also be withholding the reward. When you train your dog for a behavior that he does not know yet, don’t correct wrong behavior. Instead make the right behavior more interesting. Give your dog a chance to offer the correct behavior. If you do use corrections, make sure that it is balanced with reward – and always, always end on a good note.

Expectations
Have realistic expectations. If you haven’t worked with your dog in two years, don’t presume that he will start heeling after a short training session. Good things take time and it is important to build a solid foundation. Start at a place where your dog is comfortable, like your home. Don’t take your dog to your friend’s house to show of tricks you’ve never done outside of your home. Once your dog applies your commands correctly, you can start adding distractions by training in your backyard, then in your neighborhood and eventually in a public park. It is not fair to expect your dog to do a roll over in a dog park, if you have not extensively trained it with many distractions around before. Set up training goals and don’t do too much at a time.

Keeping the fun working with your dog is the most important thing!