Thursday, June 26, 2014

Is it Hard to Train a Dog?

People in my neighborhood have just been full of questions lately: is that a husky? why do you have a dog? are you a trainer or just a person walking her dog? And most recently, is it hard to train them?

Barley must be behaving exceptionally well on our walks lately. Earlier this week, we were out walking and did our usual intersection routine of sitting and then looking both ways before crossing. There was a man doing some yard work and his dog--without any sort of restraint--was relaxing nearby. When I noticed it, I was a little worried. The dog has approached Barley before when the man wasn't out with him, so I got Barley's attention quickly and we practiced watch--with lots of snacks--while we crossed the street.

The man had moved closer to his dog and was crouched down beside the dog when he said, "I wish my dog would behave like that. Is it hard to train them?"

Barley says, "You can't train this kind of awesomeness."
I stopped. Barley sat. I never know how to answer questions like that.

Did it take a lot of work to get Barley to walk beautifully on a leash? Not really. She's never been much of a puller, so getting her to heel beside me has only been an issue when other dogs are around. Once I learned how to get her attention with commands like "watch" and "what's that?," getting her to heel beside me and ignore other dogs wasn't all that hard.

Was it hard to train her to stop and sit at intersections? Nope. Every time we go out for a walk, I stop at an intersection. At first, I told her to sit. Then we'd walk across and she'd get a treat. Eventually, she caught on and now I don't have to say anything. I start slowing down until we get to the intersection. I stop. She stops and sits. Easy as pie.

I can sit nicely in the yard, too.
Has it been hard to train her in agility? Again, not really. She's never once shown any fear of the teeter, the dog walk, or the A-frame. She's always bouncy, so jumps have never bothered her. The weaves have been a little difficult, but once she figured out what I was asking her to do, she's tackled them with enthusiasm (and she's finally got it with our set of 6 poles!). It's been much harder to train me. I've had to learn how to be more exciting than distractions. I've had to learn to pay attention to where my hips, shoulders, feet, and eyes are pointing. I've had to learn the crosses and pay attention to what obstacle comes next. I'm the one that's harder to train in agility (I blame my parents for never enrolling me in dance classes).

Honestly, Barley's kind of a trainer's dream once you get past the reactivity. She loves to learn. Going to school is one of her favorite things, whether it's for agility, noseworks, obedience, tricks and games, or whatever else she gets signed up for. When we first started private lessons for her reactivity, our trainer gave us homework, told us it would probably take us 2 weeks to get through it all, and scheduled our next lesson for that time frame. After four days of 3 ten-minute training sessions per day, I was calling her to see what else we could work on because Barley had it down pat--even outside with distractions like construction, squirrels, and bees. I'm not sure our trainer believed me, but she moved our next session up and was amazed by how far Barley had come. Even though Barley's a stubborn little cuss, she's smart and once she knows what I'm asking of her, she'll do it (as long as she's in the mood).

Really, one of the hardest things we've encountered in training is getting her to go into the cave bed I splurged and bought for her! She still won't go in it unless I hold it wide open and tell her to go in. (But sometimes she does get out of my bed in the middle of the night and lay on the tiny part in front of the opening.)

How long do I have to stay in here?
I can't help it that I don't want to be in my cave bed. It's nicer up here.
After thinking for a second, I said no. Then I felt like a liar. Or like I was only telling part of the truth. So, I added it just takes time and consistency.

He nodded, said thanks, and Barley and I went on our way.

What about you? Do you think it's hard to train a dog?

We're linking up with Heart Like a Dog and 2 Brown Dawgs for Thursday's Barks and Bytes. Stayed tuned tomorrow for our FitDog Friday post on our adventures on the ledge!


  1. Honestly, it was easier training Katy than Bailey because we took Bailey to obedience school and we got trained. That was the thing that most surprised me about obedience training is that it was far more focused on the owners than the dogs.

    That gentleman's question is actually quite telling. He seems like he doesn't know where to start. When we tell people Bailey was a wild child as a pup, they are amazed. However, with obedience classes and a great daycare provider who had lots of training experience, he is a rather well behaved dog today.

    With Katy, I know what we need to do, we just need to be consistent and we'd have even better results. However, it would be much harder if we'd never taken Bailey to school.

    1. Yes, our trainers are very focused on training me! When we first started lessons, our trainer had to literally take my hand and turn it the right way on the leash because I couldn't figure out how she wanted me to hold the leash!

      You make a great point--I think having a clear idea of what you want your dog to learn is the first step in figuring out how to train them. I was impressed that the man's dog never got up from where it was lounging in the shade--Barley cannot do a down-stay to save her life if another dog walks by unless I'm there rewarding regularly.

      Consistency is so important for good results. I forget that with a lot of things--mostly the fun ones like bow and wave--and we don't practice them regularly, so then I ask Bar for the behavior and she just runs through every trick she knows until she gets the right one.

  2. Sage has also been easy to train and sounds a lot like Bailey. She does have some leash-reactivity at times, but if I'm on top of it, we do fine. And agility was a dream--she absolutely loves it. Since my accident, our instructor has been running her. She was really unsure about why mommy wasn't doing it and hid under my feet a few times. Fortunately our instructor know dogs so well and has already gotten her back on track and having the fun she always has there.

    1. I'm so glad that Sage is still having fun in agility. Barley always gets a little confused if our trainer takes her to show me what she wants from me, but as long as treats are involved she'll work for anyone. I think part of the reason training Barley hasn't seemed hard is because our trainers are so awesome and clear and present almost everything as a game, so once I learned what my role was, everything else has just seemed fun instead of like work.

  3. You should be out field training and see the questions we Sometimes people have like 50 questions about what we are doing and they don't mind stopping us in the middle of training to talk. :) It can be quite frustrating at times, but we try to answer questions as we can.

    I have only recently started walking Freighter myself. He is very easy to walk. His heeling is mostly good. I have to be careful not to put an automatic sit on him because he needs to stand in the show ring so I mix sit and stand. Of course Freighter spent quite a lot of time with a professional trainer as a pup so he got good basics on the leash. I just needed to make it work for us as a team.

    Thanks so much for joining the hop!

    1. I can only imagine the questions you get! Since we don't have a yard, we can only practice agility stuff in the training center or in our living room, so we have plenty of privacy. Our apartment manager has stopped by when I've had weave poles stretched across the dining room and seemed a little baffled, but mostly we only get questions about how I got her to walk so nicely. When we it's cool enough to practice noseworks vehicle searches out in our parking lot, I'm sure our neighbors will have some questions, though!

  4. I think as long as you really want to learn and help your dog then it's not super difficult. Maddux and I practice a lot when we're taking a class (and show up to every class!). Some of the owners didn't show up to every class and said they didn't really practice and it definitely showed!