We’ve all heard that we need to train our dogs. It’s pretty much an accepted fact of dog ownership. But have you ever wondered WHY it’s so important? I mean, plenty of dogs go through life without any formal training whatsoever and most of them seem just fine. So what’s the big deal? Here are some of my favourite reasons to train my dogs – and to be honest, ‘discipline’ is pretty low on the list!
1) It builds a relationship
One of the biggest benefits of training, especially using reward-based methods, is that it builds a great relationship between you and your dog. You become an important part of their life due to all the fun, positive interactions you have and the time you spend giving them your undivided attention and approval. The toys and cookies don’t do any harm either but it’s the connection that develops between you and your best buddy that seems to be a big part of why training is so enjoyed by many dogs. In sports trained dogs it’s not uncommon to find dogs that will work for anyone – as long as they are carrying food or toys, but will work just for the sheer joy of it with their trainer/handler. The more intense focus of dog sport training has even more benefits – and you don’t have to compete to reap them!
2) It develops understanding and a communication system
When you train a dog using solid training principles you are opening up a communication pathway. Your dog gets instant, clear feedback about what he is doing and you develop keen observation skills. This means that it is no longer a ‘I say, you do’ dynamic; there is a dialog going on between you and your dog. So, if your dog makes a mistake, instead of instantly correcting, or blaming your best friend, you are able to step back, consider your part in the process and adjust the situation and session appropriately. This alone is great for taking the pressure of ‘obedience’ and compliance out of the picture! It is especially useful when teaching your dog to be handled – a problem for so many dogs.
3) It builds confidence
The more you teach your dog, the more confident your dog will become. Why? Because he is learning that his behaviour has results, he can influence outcomes and get things he wants. It really doesn’t matter what you teach! Whether it is a wide repertoire of tricks, skills for performance sports or developing and using his natural talents such as scenting or tracking; training success breeds confidence. This is why training is SO important for adolescent dogs that are finding their feet in the world.
4) It’s a form of enrichment
Dogs are an intelligent species and have evolved to solve problems. Dogs that aren’t given enough mental challenges will often either find their own (how to get into the cupboard to raid the waste bin?) or turn into bored, stressed, anxious beasties that imagine monsters in every corner and spook at anything novel or unusual. Dogs NEED to use their brains! It’s not just idle hands the devil will make work for, it’s idle paws too.
5) It means many dogs can have more freedom
My dogs are lucky enough to live in a society that allows them free running in certain places and situations. However, without some sort of way of asking them to come back, walk with me, ignore something or stay in one place for a few seconds/minutes, we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of these opportunities. Off lead dogs with no ‘connection’ to their handlers are usually frowned upon and can be a menace to other members of the public. In this day and age of anti-dog feeling and fear of being bitten, a dog that behaves in any way that is seen to be unacceptable is a problem on many different levels. Unruly dogs quickly provoke complaints to councils which then quickly lead to dog control measures being made even stricter. That’s a loss for everyone: the dogs, the responsible dog owners and even non-dog owning public who are left even more convinced that dogs must be dangerous and the devil’s spawn.
6) They learn how to get their needs met appropriately
Training teaches your dog that he has ‘agency’ – he can cause things in his environment to happen to his benefit. A dog that knows how to get his needs met, without resorting to unpleasant behaviour, is a much nicer animal to have around. He will also be a happier dog.
Having agency means your dog has an element of control over his world. We now know that having choices and being able to control some aspects of your life are considered to be absolutely critical for mental health and welfare. This is true for all intelligent species (and probably the not so intelligent ones too!).
7) It keeps them safe
Generally speaking, a dog that can be directed and ‘controlled’ when necessary, is a safe dog. If your dog has learnt to wait to be released through gates, doors and out of the car, he is less likely to dive out in front of a vehicle in a mad rush to bolt off. If he can sit and wait under distraction, he can be kept out of harm’s way when the unexpected happens. If he will instantly come when called, he can be called away before he eats that potentially poisonous or dangerous thing he’s just found. He can also be kept out of trouble if other people or animals (such as cats!), who are not dog fans, are around. Training allows us to teach our dogs what to do in given situations so they themselves are kept safe, as are others around them.
8) We have a lot of fun together!
And last but definitely not least, training is fun! Training doesn’t have to be serious business. Think of it as a form of play, a way to communicate and a way to connect with your dog. I can honestly say that I’ve probably had some of my greatest laughs while training my dogs! Sure, training can have some serious outcomes, as I’ve already detailed, but many of the biggest benefits come purely because it is an activity that is thoroughly enjoyable to both parties – at least, my dogs certainly seem to think so!
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