Friday, July 4, 2014

Trust & Training Philosophy

   This week on one of the online Shiba owner forums, an owner new to the breed was asking about training to correct some bad behavior in their young dog, in this case, running wildly and nipping at people. I was blown away by the number and diversity of responses. I guess everyone has their own training philosophy, not to mention tactics that may work for one individual dog, but not another. There was also some blatantly incorrect information that was shared. It really is the wild West out there!
   I grew up with golden retrievers and did a lot of obedience training with them. Goldens are easy to train (because they are not very smart), and I am lucky that my instinct for working with animals translated to success with my Shibas. They are a highly intelligent and primitive breed, meaning that they can be a real challenge, especially for new owners. I have learned to love the challenge, as it makes it especially rewarding as you bond with your dog and build trust, and reap the rewards. 
   I consider my training a success because I can take my dogs anywhere: long road trips, hotels, hospitals, dog parks, campgrounds, mountains, kayaks... You get the idea. And they can safely interact with anyone, including small children, which were a special challenge for Aki. One of my happiest moments ever was when my neighbors little boy, August, came over this weekend, and Aki was the first to trot to the door to greet him by gently kissing his face. Much to his delight, as he crinkled his eyes and giggled. So I thought it was worth sharing a little bit of my philosophy.
   My belief is that there is no substitute for enrolling your dog in a good basic obedience class and having all your family members participate, so the dog learns to respect everyone alike, and the family agrees on consistent commands and expectations. Nothing builds trust faster than spending regular, focused time on training, and consummate consistency. And following up with fun classes like agility reinforces and exponentially increases obedience.  My dogs were SIGNIFICANTLY closer to me after obedience and agility. They were already VERY good dogs, but these classes absolutely TRANSFORMED them.
   You have to be willing to take your dog into unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations and coach them through it, once you have developed a deep bank of trust through focused training. When I first adopted Taylor, he would actually try to bite me when I trim his nails. In the beginning, I had to use a leash to make an improvised muzzle. Now he just lays there patiently for me to finish… He doesn't mind at all! My dogs have become good in crowds, but they didn't start that way. Once I even took them to a hot air balloon show, and they were standing right next to balloons with active burners.
   My other "secret" is regular exercise. A tired dog is a good dog, almost without exception. Dogs that are wild or prone to misbehavior often need more regular walks or runs. And this could mean several MILES to wear out some dogs. A romp in the backyard is rarely enough. I experienced this with Taylor; he was wild and would be nosy and get into things around the house, but when I started running with him, he lit up. He frequently runs 3 to 5 miles with me, and gets incredibly excited anytime I pull out his harness and leash. He wouldn't think of letting me leave him behind now. And it has help me control his weight issues, too. (He's back down to 22 pounds! And looks super skinny since he has shed his undercoat.)
   My participation with rescue groups means that I can get frustrated by people's willingness to give up a family member with whom they have become exasperated. They make their dog's behavior problems someone else's problem. I firmly believe that nearly all of these problems have a solution, if people are open to committing to it. I hope that by sharing these tips, I can help others.