Finding Opportunities

Chocolate Lab with trainer going through a door

When I am training in town, I am always looking for opportunities.

A key quality of a good dog trainer is the ability to recognize when you have an opportunity to teach your dog something. I call these moments “recognizing training opportunities”. My husband Sam is a master at this, not to mention he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

One day when he was out running errands he happened upon the Fire Department’s engine company finishing up at a fire scene. Thinking quickly, he stopped and asked if the fireman would not mind if he walked the puppies he had with him around the men and equipment. He explained what the training was all about and they happily agreed. The pups got exposure to scary big men in yellow fire suits and a whole host of smells and sounds. This was certainly a 5 star training opportunity in my book. It would be easy to just drive by a scene like this. However, when you realize this is not something you can easily recreate and is very valuable in the socialization of your dog, then you can appreciate the value of the 5 or 10 minutes spent compared to the bigger picture.

Training Opportunities need not be as dramatic as this example to be effective. They can occur around your house and I would guess you miss many of them. A problem for many owners is teaching the stay command. Most people tell me their dogs will only hold a position for a few seconds, not the hours that mine regularly are asked to do. One trick we use to get long reliable stays is to start with the puppy on a leash before we sit down to eat a meal. When we are ready to sit down at the table, the pups all go under the table with the leash being placed on the chair for us to sit on. There might be some squirming at first from the pups, but after several meals they get the hang of what it means to stay put. We build from this to off lead stays and soon they are doing longer and more solid stays.  Two things to remember with this exercise; don’t forget the release word like “OK” or “Free” when you are finished. If your pup is in the cranky teething stage while you are teaching this, it is helpful to give them a nice soft teething bone to chew on while you eat.

Another opportunity I am on the lookout for relates to teaching the recall. Young pups around 6-10 weeks will naturally stay within a finite distance from you. I let them explore as much as they need to and look for the moment they realize they are a little too far from me. When they turn around, look for and locate me, and the start back in my direction, that is the golden opportunity to teach/reinforce the Recall. I kneel down, open my arms and say “puppy Come”. They will soon learn “come” to mean “come join me” and if you end the whole thing with a lot of love and kisses, your puppy will have a reliable recall in very short order. Always end the recall with something positive. Never call the pup to you to punish him; take him inside, or anything he/she might think of as a negative. If you must go inside after you call the pup to you, do something else before you go inside. There needs to be a break in time and association between the two events.

One of the most lost training opportunity I also see is when people come to visit. Most folks raising a puppy will put the puppy up when visitors come. I suggest you need to take advantage of this time to train your puppy instead. Put the pup on a leash and have him sit by your side and greet your guests. Being on a leash he will learn the correct protocol for greeting people coming to visit. It won’t take many times before he gets the hang of it and you won’t need the leash. As tempting as it is, do not let your guests fuss over the pup at the door. They can pet him later, when things settle down if at all. I’m sure if you explain he is in training they will understand. It’s a great chance to develop manners that will make your dog a pleasure to live with the rest of his life.

I hope some of these ideas will inspire you to look for those special moments where a valuable lesson can be taught to your puppy. Please share in the comments section, your special training opportunity.