Dog training blog week 4: Trying to learn 'most important behavior to teach a dog'

By Meaghan St Pierre - Producer
Meaghan St. Pierre is a Senior Special Projects Producer at Local 4. She is blogging about her experience with taking her dog to training classes. Here's her previous blog post. 

“Let’s take Archer for a walk, work on his loose-leash training,” I say to my son.

“Why do we always have to take the dog for a walk?” he says. 

“Because dogs need exercise,” I say.

“Can I ride my bike?” he says.

“No, we are trying to train him to be good at loose-leash walking, if you ride your bike he will want to chase after you,” I reply.

“Having a dog is no fun, all you do is go on boring walks,” he grumbles as he walks down the driveway. 

I smile. I’ll remember that when you are rolling around with him on the floor or curled up next to him in the dog bed, that dogs are just no fun. 

I get it, no eight-year-old boy wants to train a dog how to loose-leash walk.  They want to run, play and have a good time. 

It’s summer, the sun is still setting later, the air is warm and we want to play in the twilight before it’s replaced by cooler breezes and eventually the white stuff no one is ready to think about, not even those who love the snow.  Yep. I said it.

But in our house, there is still work to be done. 

We are wrapping our basic manners dog training at the Humane Society of Huron Valley.  Our Saturday mornings in July and August have been spent in a room with five other dogs, their owners and our trainers, Angela Schmorrow and Lowell Zuckerman of Harmony Dog Training

The classes feel easy because we are simply introducing our pets to the training commands.  The real effort needs to be exerted when we are home, going about our daily routine and including the training. To produce results, you need to put in the work.  

Practice, practice, practice until the training commands become second nature to him and us. 

If you have followed our progress, you know I have struggled to walk Archer.  Some walks he has planted his paws on the ground and refused to moved, chewed on the leash, and jumped at vehicles as they pass. 

The loose-leash walking has improved the situation. More walks than not, he is walking near me with the leash slack. I do a lot of clicking and rewarding with food along the way, but he is understanding that pulling me will not get the result he wants.   

Angela and Lowell tested our new walking skills with a fun game during our last class. They broke us up into two teams of three.

The challenge was to fill a cup with water from one bucket, then holding it in the same hand we hold the leash, walk the dog to a second bucket and dump any water still in the cup.

The goal is to walk while spilling as little water as possible and do so by using the tools we’ve learned including clicking and rewarding and positive reinforcement. 

Archer and I made it across the room fairly well. A little water spilled but we poured plenty into the bucket. Our team won! 

Next we learned the “Come When Called” or Recall command.  Our trainers describe this as one of the most important behaviors to teach a dog.  

“The key to having a dog who wants to come to you each and every time you call is to make coming to you a hugely rewarding experience."

To be successful with the Recall training, we are told to take it slow, use high-value rewards or treats and always use a happy, upbeat voice. 

A couple important notes: never call your dog when you are mad and don’t say the command more than once because you don’t want your dog to think he only has to come after you’ve said the command several times.   

We have been working on this training in our home where there are less distractions. Archer is coming when called, even when I back up, but I have a strong sense all the treats are a big motivator for him. 

As the weeks have gone by, Angela and Lowell have passed on commands we can use to encourage positive behaviors in our dogs. 

But without practice, they are of no use. 

This week our schedule was hectic, then breaking news had me working a double shift one day, leaving little time for training. 

I am determined to keep working on the training behaviors: Watch, Touch, Sit Stay, Mat training, Loose-leash walking, polite greetings.

Archer will be one in September and our first puppy year is nearly behind us.  As we approach this mile stone I feel more confident having him in our home will continue to be more joyous than frustrating, thanks in part to our first set of training classes.  

I’m thankful to Angela and Lowell for showing us how to focus on positive puppy behaviors. 

We still have a long way to go with making Archer a polite greeter, keeping him from jumping at cars as they drive past on our walks, and stop him from trying to eat all our socks!

As we wrap up our classes, the real home work begins. I promise to update our progress. 

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