Its a very real question.
We are approached daily by owners who want to have a “trained dog”, owners who want their dog to be “to the word” or “to behave”. These are all phrases that have been used by clients on initial phone calls. We also have owners who “want the dog to walk to heel, off lead, and behave everywhere” “owners who “just want to be able to let the dog off and have him/her come back on command” or “want him/her to go out hunting with one partner but leave the kids rabbits alone”
These owners are not people who WANT advanced training with their dogs, these owners WANT a magic wand.
As most of us know, all the above requests are possible with training and a lot of hard work, repetition and practice, even if some of the requests are often viewed as unacceptable (e.g. the off lead everywhere at all times).
So, what does it mean to have a “trained dog”. Well in the world of detection dogs, it would be deemed to be a dog who is operational, or at least assessed and ready for work. This dog is STILL IN TRAINING! In the world of service dogs, it is seen as a dog who has been assessed as operational, ready to go, with whatever service it had been taught to assist with e.g Guide dogs or hearing dogs. This dog is STILL IN TRAINING! A working gun dog, who will go thro the motions and behaviours required by its handler, either in real hunting or in organised trials. THIS DOG IS STILL IN TRAINING!
The reason I am making this statement is the point that the training of a dog doesn’t actually ever stop, it becomes a lifestyle with that dog, the activities that the dog can do to a level of human approval, are reassessed and practiced continuously at all times, and such activities are added to the more the dog is able to remember.
So, the afore mentioned caller, when you ring up and tell me you want a “trained dog” please decide what you actually want, do you want a well mannered, sociable, happy, well adjusted family dog? Then be prepared to work (and play) hard, you need to work as much as your dog does, and hopefully have as much fun as he/she will too.
For the caller who wants the dog “to the word” then be prepared to work (and play) even harder, as you need to achieve the well mannered, sociable, happy and well adjusted dog first, before you start polishing the finer skills, after all, most degree level students go through years of school first.
The people who want a dog to “behave” well that’s fine, they already are! It’s how you want them to behave that is the debatable point. Again, I suspect before the phone call continues, that once again you are wanting a well mannered, sociable, happy, well adjusted family dog.
Recall, needs practice, lots and lots of practice, some dogs and or owners needing more than others, so this one needs a lot of work too.
Off lead walking..,hhhmm, well it is one that I have to ask why. I agree that it is a useful activity to learn as any one can have a lead malfunction, so being able to keep your dog with you in a controlled manner is good, however it has to be faced, that lots of local authorities have on/off lead policies which must be adhered to by owners, there is the issue of whether you are considered to be in full control of your dog (if it is offlead, then the chances are that would be a no then, unless the dog had practiced this to a level of expertise which can be compared to that of competitive obedience dog, or a professional service dog and will comply to the owners request without question or distractions). It is safer for all to have your dog on leash where there are likely to be hazards or that situations that could cause issues with members of the public.
Be decisive what you want to achieve AS A TEAM with your dog, it is a huge ask to want your dog to hunt all rabbits except one, is it even fair to ask your dog to do this?
A well mannered, sociable, happy, well adjusted family pet, is realistically what most owners want to achieve. I love it when clients want that little bit more, and will work with them tirelessly to help them get to the place they want to be. I love it when owners are prepared to put in the hours, work through the frustration (yes, it is frustrating when doggie says no) get past the difficult bits.
We don’t own magic wands, we can’t and will never state we can train your dog in a timescale, dogs learn, just as humans just as humans do, at different speeds. We will bristle hugely and possibly tell you a few home truths if you tell us you need to achieve your well mannered, sociable ,happy, well adjusted dog “within a month or it has to go.” We will get slightly rattled if you continuously cry that “it won’t listen” or “I tried that and it doesn’t work”. While we appreciate that some teaching methods don’t work on some people and dogs and we will change to suit the individual….and it will work, with practice!
Dogs are amazing animals, they will give you what you want, if you are prepared to work as a team to achieve it.