One of the questions on our adoption application is “Will you be taking your dog to obedience classes?” The answer often surprises me as most potential adopters answer the question with a confident “only if the dog needs it”. As someone who has adopted several dogs and fostered hundreds, I can tell you that most dogs “don’t need it” at all because they are very good at being dogs! They dig, bark, jump on people, potty in the house and do all the other “doggie” behaviors that sometimes drive us crazy and they do it all without training! However, most IGs we see in rescue are here because they outsmarted their last owner, didn’t listen, jumped on people, barked, came in the house to potty vs. freezing outside like a silly big dog, etc. In other words, they were masters at doing what they do best, being a dog!! They need no class or training. It comes naturally! Dogs will be dogs and are quite happy being so, however it’s we humans that have a problem with some of their so “inappropriate behavior”. (Don’t even get me started on poop eating, rolling in worms, humping and many other dogs behaviors we humans find intolerable)! So does your dog “need an obedience class?” Mostly likely if he could talk he would say “NO Way” but most humans I know do! Because it is we humans who want the dog to not only live in our world, but to behave the way we think they should in our world, so it’s up to us to train them how! We, the humans, need an obedience class to teach them these things!
A trained dog is a joy to have as a companion. It’s no coincidence that most dogs surrendered to shelters have never had an obedience class and behavior problems are one of the top reasons dogs are relinquished to shelters and humane societies! Dogs were born with the instincts to be dogs. Despite our domesticating them, they share over 99% of their DNA with the wolf! Most dogs only need classes because we want them to act differently than their doggie instincts tell them. We need to take the class so we can learn to communicate with the dogs in our life.
I’m a believer that there are no bad dogs, only untrained dogs! I’m also a believer that every dog should take their human to an obedience class! Every one of my dogs has taken a basic obedience class at the very least. Like I tell all my first time students who hope their “dog will learn in class”, I tell them they will learn more than their dogs because it’s we who need the training!
Before continuing on with the many benefits of a training class, I would like to share a somewhat humorous account of why I say every dog and human should attend class! About two decades ago, I adopted two wonderful adult dogs from shelters (translation: someone else trained them for me) that were very well behaved and generally good dogs. Sure we had some initial separation anxiety problems but overall they were great dogs. I feel bad with what I know now because those two dogs, although I am sure I gave them the best life I could, got an inexperienced owner who thought she knew how to communicate and train dogs. After all, I grew up with toy poodles from the time I was 8 years old. Later in life I went on to foster Greyhounds, then adopt and foster Italian Greyhounds. Based on some basic abilities that I had observed and learned over the years and probably some basic instincts, the dogs and I did just fine. That is until an IG named Ayanna came along!!!
Oh yes, many of you know my beautiful blue girl who, I joke, “put every gray hair on my head”. I adore her. I adopted her about 9 years ago and Ayanna and I share a bond that is so wonderful. We know what each other is thinking and we communicate very well. If she could talk, we would finish each other’s sentences! Today at 10, she is still a challenge, but that’s part of what I love most about her now that I know how to manage it! I always say that just when you think you know it all about animals, they have a way of humbling you! Ayanna did more than humble me. She made me realize that I didn’t know much about dogs and their behavior and I most likely just got “lucky” to have good dogs and fosters! Now I had met my challenge with her. I also always joke “never get a dog that is smarter than you” and I had a foster that was smarter than me when it came to the dog world. Of course at first I was in denial. Ayanna was just a “bad girl”. Still today she wags her tail when I say that and thinks it’s a good thing! She would potty wherever she wanted, wouldn’t listen, would mark my belongings (yes, girls can mark), constantly pushed the envelope and basically made my life hell! Fostering was no longer fun. It was a challenge and I had met my match, even though she came in as a very shy, very underweight, and malnourished 10 pound package!
Not only did I not enjoy living with this foster girl, I had no bond with her at all! I threw a fur coat and fancy collar on her thinking “thank God she’s pretty, someone will adopt her and love her”. As time went on things got worse, not better. Ayanna had a lot of health issues so she was going to be with me awhile. One day it hit me like a brick that if I didn’t enjoy living with this girl, how was anyone else going to enjoy her? No fancy clothes or pretty face would make up for what a pain in the butt she was! I vowed to do something about it. I took Ayanna to both regular obedience classes and private lessons. She was so badly behaved in the car that I remember the trainer and I driving around for an entire training session just to work on her car behavior! I had a list a mile long of Ayanna’s inappropriate behaviors for the trainer! Of course none of this could be my fault. She was just a bad dog. So, what did we really learn in these training classes? I say we, but it was mostly me who had to do the learning! Ayanna learned to listen, but more importantly I learned how to communicate with her and how to provide the mental and physical stimulation that a smart dog needs! So what else did I learn, and why should you train your dog?
Even with people, if you can communicate well you are more likely to get along. Communication is the key to success in both the human world and the dog world! Imagine if you were suddenly dropped into a foreign country where all the rules were different and you didn’t speak the language. Well that’s what our dogs live with everyday! They don’t speak English. Sure they can learn words, but they communicate in a very different manner than we do and by relying on other senses such as their eyes through body language, their nose through scent, etc. Training classes will help your dog learn our language but more importantly, it will also help you learn their language!
Builds a bond
When your dog understands what you want from him, he is more secure and happy and you don’t become frustrated with your dog’s behavior. You understand each other. You can communicate without saying a word! You have a bond that truly grows from communication and understanding.
Gives you tools
Training gives you tools and alternative behaviors to help your dog deal with new situations, and you to deal with problems that arise. Training or learning is never over in the dog or human world. We are constantly learning and training helps us to learn new ways to manage behaviors that might come up. Our dog companions are usually with us for 10-15 years. We need tools to help them live in our world!
It’s socialization with people and dogs in a controlled setting. Dogs need to be with dogs. Dogs need to get along with people. A class provides interaction for your dog with other dogs and other people, in a very controlled environment with people of similar interests! Therefore it is fun and educational for both your dog and you! Nothing is sadder, in my opinion, than a dog afraid of other people or worse yet, unable to interact with his own kind!
I never thought training could be fun! I never thought dogs really liked to learn but I was wrong. I have yet to meet a dog that doesn’t like to learn! It’s fun for them. When I start training one of my dogs, they all come running as if to say “I want to try it” or “I can do that”. Think about how we learn new things all the time and that learning or school can be fun for humans and for dogs!
Often dog owners say “well my dog sits (insert behavior) at home just fine” but the key to a well behaved dog is to have them listen around distractions and other settings. Training teaches your dog to be a good citizen in public, not just at home. My dogs have gone to senior homes for therapy visits, traveled on vacation with me, gone to work, and stayed at nice hotels because they are generally well behaved. I think dogs, just like children, should behave in public and the reward is a more stimulating life where they can go many places!
Training builds a dog’s confidence. Just like people are more confident when they learn new things, so is a dog. There is nothing sadder in rescue than a dog that is insecure. I know no better way to make a dog more confident, secure and happy in our world, than to teach them new things and to teach them to listen.
Safety, piece of mind
I always teach my puppy owners that if you can only teach your dog one thing, and you can teach him to do it perfectly, teach the come command. In my opinion every dog should have a very reliable recall. It’s the one and only command that might just save your dog’s life one day. It amazes me how many people say it 100 times a day, don’t reward a dog when he does come, and basically teaches their dog that come is “optional”. This command (if taught properly) can truly save your dog’s life! That alone is worth an investment in training classes!
So, what happened with Ayanna? I did place Ayanna twice with great previous adopters, but she was too much for them so she was returned. I cried both times she left and knew I made a huge mistake. After all, our bond was so strong from the training, and I had learned so much from Ayanna! When she was returned a second time, I adopted her. She went on to get her Canine Good Citizen Certificate, Junior Coursing title, become a therapy dog, and also do some agility for fun. Almost a decade later, she continues to remind me that I don’t know it all and humbles me when I think I do. She also continues to challenge me and remind me that I have to meet her needs too and not just expect her to meet mine, that she lives in my world but I also must understand and live in hers! I adore her and we are so close. That isn’t all Ayanna did for me. I was so forever changed by my training experiences that I became an assistant at class and went on to become a trainer. All my own dogs (and several fosters) have all gone through at least basic obedience classes in a classroom setting so they can get the socialization. I have taught at the same place that trained Ayanna and me, for about 8 years now. Ayanna loves to go to each class with me, where she sits in her soft bed watching me almost as to proudly say “I taught her everything she knows!”