When thinking about what to write for my Spring 2023 Gracerok blog, I kept coming back to something I see far too often in online pet dog groups and even in my own puppy applications. It seems like everyone these days thinks that dogs are so easy to raise that they practically train themselves. Or, they've seen a few of those dog trainer shows on television and think they've learned all they need to know about how to train their new Aussie. Or, all it takes is to post a question about their barking, digging, obnoxious dog to random new dog owners on the internet group and they'll find a magical solution.
Besides, when they were 6 years old their family had a cute little Cock-a-Poo and he was so well behaved, how hard can it be? Piece of cake. Shhhhsssssttt!
Unfortunately, kids just don't see all the work mom and dad did behind the scenes cleaning up pee on the kitchen floor, picking up chewed shoes, and figuring out how to walk family fido without losing an arm and molding their puppy into a manageable family member.
With the popularity of Aussies soaring well into the Top 10 Canadian Kennel Club registered breeds in Canada, at Number 6 (!) in 2022, these beautiful and intelligent dogs can be seen everywhere and it seems everyone wants one. Yes, Aussies are beautiful. But they are a newer breed... did you know they were only recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club in 1992?
Aussies have only been moving towards being family companion dogs since their parent club, the Australian Shepherd Club of America was established in 1957, so until quite recently they were primarily working herding dogs and many still are today. Bred to work sheep or cattle all day in all types of terrain and weather conditions, how does such a breed suddenly adapt to living in an urban environment with cars quckly passing by, loud noises everywhere, and other dogs and people invading their space? What does it take to have a calm, confident Aussie instead of a neurotic, barking, digging, chewing lunging menace? These dogs will EASILY outsmart the average owner. There are many things that will help accomplish a favorable result. One of them is:
Training led by a professional with appropriate certifications who participates in continuing education to keep up with the ever evolving science of dog training. How does one access such training? Classes or private sessions. Do a Google search for dog training schools in your area. The internet is truly a miracle.
These are the best of times! There is a proliferation of good dog training schools everywhere. The science of positive reinforcement or similar techniques is fast becoming mainstream and I couldn't be more giddy about that!
So why are so many dog owners completely unaware that going to classes to learn how to train their dog is a thing? What's the deal with "I work with a private trainer"? Was it Covid that did that? Does going to a class for dog training have a bad reputation? I don't have the answer. But I'm telling you now...it IS a thing.
Even before the internet existed <gasp> I was taking my dogs to training classes-- since the mid 1970s! The first thing I did when my parents gifted me with a poodle puppy for my 14th birthday was to enrol in classes. I ended up taking many classes and competing in dog shows in obedience and conformation and earned titles at both ends of her name. Despite decades of taking classes and knowing I can train on my own, I don't. Why?
Because taking my dog to a class will help build their confidence in new environments. It exposes them to new people, places, and other dogs in a safe, controlled environment and teaches them to focus on their handler (me!) and learn that good things happen (treats!) when they go out in the world.
The structure of a class, with daily homework in between each class, gives me the kick in the butt to practise at least 3 to 4 times during the week. I do 10 minute sessions with no more than 6 repetitions of each exercise. Aussies don't enjoy being drilled and will shut down or start offering other behaviors if you force them to keep doing the same thing over and over.
Feedback from the trainer helps me to continue to improve and customise my technique and timing to the needs of each individual dog, thus getting even better results. And believe me, it's easy to get good results with an Aussie...they're usually the star of every class and make you look like a superstar trainer don't ya know?!
Classes and the homework sessions in between help to strengthen the bond between me and my dog. Aussies love to work for their owners and each session improves our communication with each other and increases our mutual understanding of how we communicate.
Regular practise with my dog in between classes makes me more in tune with my dog and I'm more likely to notice when something is 'off' that might need adjusting. Maybe my dog is going through a fear period and is suddenly nervous of cars going by or other dogs on walks. Having that closer connection forged through regular training means that I'll notice that sooner and will be able to make adjustments to our routine, our route, or my training technique to address the situation and help to make my dog more comfortable.
A relationship with a good dog school gives me a connection to training resources when a need may arise. I'll have faster access to professional help and advice when I need it.
Going to classes with my dog gives me a sense of what they enjoy. Each of my dogs is different. I currently have one dog who loves doing agility stuff. Another loves heelwork and Rally Obedience. Classes provide the inspiration to explore more of the activities that I enjoy and that my dog enjoys. And Aussies NEED activities to be calm, mentally satisfied and stable members of my household.
Dogs don't come pre-programmed to be perfect family members...they are a different species, after all.
Kids go to school for years to learn how to be good family members, why not dogs..they are like children, they are family members, and they need schooling to teach them how to be a good family member and canine good citizens.