What IS “training,” anyway?

jenna in snow

My last post raised the question "when should one start training a dog," and we've had a lively and interesting discussion about it in the comment section. Our conversation has raised, as good conversations often do, another issue that I think deserves attention: How do you define training? Many comments have said that we are training our dogs the second we bring them home, which closely reflects my perspective. However, others have said that they "don't start training until the dog is older, they just teach them "manners" (which is closer to Kelly's perspective). One commenter said that her dog knew sit, leave it, polite leash walking, etc, but she didn't start "serious training" until the dog was older.  What a perfect example of how we are all define "training" in our own way. On Read More

No Training ’til 7-8 months?

hans solo 1-4

Oh my. An alert reader sent me an blog from Psychology Today's website. The essay is by Lee Charles Kelly, and argues that "dog training is no longer working that well" because we start "obedience" training too soon. The quote is actually attributed to Ian Dunbar, and Kelly uses that comment, and suggestions from psychologists that we shouldn't push young children into cognitive tasks too soon, to argue that we have no business training puppies until they are adolescents. Ironically, he suggests that Ian himself is responsible for the "problem," because he has encouraged people to take their pups to puppy socialization classes. Could I disagree more? It would be hard ... at least, if you define "training" the way I do. I'm talking about teaching a pup to associate coming when called to Read More

The Puppy Chronicles: Chapter 3 — Puppy Tests Revisited

I'm about to take a week's vacation and wallow in puppy breath, flowers, and friends. Jim's surgery next week isn't quite what we planned, but at least we didn't have anything else scheduled besides enjoying spring and being together. I'm going to take a blog/email break and concentrate on my Jim, Will and Pup for the entire week, but I wanted to close out the chapter on the puppy tests, at least for now. As you may know, I do the puppy tests, but am never sure how much to make of them. So far, I am impressed with their predictive value (but it is VERY early in the game, so this question needs to be revisited in 12, 24 and 36 months). The standard tests that I did ask how a pup relates to an unfamiliar person and the environment. Mick was only 1 of 2 pups who followed me, unafraid of loud Read More

Explaining “Step by Step” Training, Step by Step

One of the great comments on my post about the new Puppy Book reminded me that training "step by step" is not intuitive. Someone may know that there are multiple steps between a dog sitting on cue when asked in the kitchen at dinner time, versus being asked to sit when barking at the visitors at the front door. But what are those steps? And how do you know when to move on to the next one? I thought it would be helpful to give a few examples. However, I would love it if some of the experienced readers would add an example of their own. My favorite part of writing this blog is the wealth of knowledge of its readers, and I am sure that many of the readers would benefit greatly from hearing a range of examples. Here's an example, using the dog sitting on cue when it's easy for him to comply Read More

New Puppy Primer

Wheeee! I've been working on an updated version of the Puppy Primer for six months now, and it feels SO good to finally hold the finished product in my hot little paws. In it, co-author Brenda Scidmore and I emphasize the benefits of positive reinforcement, of letting dogs initiate the correct action themselves when possible, the importance of realistic expectations and of going step-by-step in training. That last issue is such a big one to me: so many of the problems I see people having with their dogs relate to them jumping from Step 1 to Step 25, without knowing that there should be many steps in between. For example,  there's (Step 1) sitting on cue in the kitchen while holding a dinner bowl and (Step 25) sitting on cue when 5 people come to the door and there are 3 other dogs barking Read More