The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Teach Your Dog

I’m trying to find time to train four dogs, in between doing farm chores, carting kids back and forth to summer programs, running my dog grooming shop, and learning all about the business of running a blog. I bet most of you can relate! Luckily, dog training doesn’t take long, and I’m finding spaces in between my busy schedule to make it fit.

For instance, four days a week I drive my son to his summer learning program in the next town over. Once I drop him off, I have about a half hour before I have to be back to open the shop. So, yesterday, I loaded up Reese Beast, hooked a full treat bag to my belt loop and headed to the town park after Colin got on the bus.

Reese the Beastie, or as my hubby calls her, the Best Girl in the World!

Reese is an awesome little dog. She came to us four years ago when I decided that I wanted a very trainable puppy. I told the universe that I loved border collies, but I have a passion for Pomeranians, so if a Pomeranian with the heart of a border collie could be sent my way, I would really appreciate it. And you know what? The universe listened! Reese is clever and bright and loves, loves, LOVES to learn! She excelled at her puppy classes and my daughter and I had big plans- nosework, agility, possibly therapy dog work. But then…well, life happened, and now four years have passed without accomplishing much. Luckily, there is no time like the present. We are beginning again, and Reese is thrilled to get back to work.

Although we are not starting at square one, I am taking things back to the basics with Reese, because all that really stuck with her from her puppy days is a really solid ‘down’, and a love of treats. She is a very zoomy dog- she LOVES to explore and sniff and run and chase and play- well, you get the picture. The problem is, she doesn’t like to come back. So, the first thing we are working on is: ATTENTION WORK!

Attention work is just what it sounds like. I truly feel that this is the most important thing you can teach your dog. How can you train if you can’t get your dog’s attention? How can you call them back if, God forbid, they are sprinting towards a busy street? Everything else is built on this one behavior.

I spent our training session clicking and treating Reese for giving me her attention. That’s it. Just a glance at first.  I had her on a ten foot leash, and just let her run around the park. At first I called her name, and when she ignored me, I moved in a different direction so she had to follow, and when she looked at me to follow I clicked and gave her a treat. I didn’t throw the treat to her, I made her come in to get it. I also did not yell her name over and over, or chase her or tell her ‘no!” I simply decided what I behavior I wanted (look at me), managed the situation so she could safely move around (keeping her on a ten foot leash so she couldn’t simply run off), and paid attention so I could click the moment she gave me the desired behavior. She caught on quick, and began circling back when I called her name.. Click! Treat!

Then she started checking in without me saying anything. I really had to watch her to catch a glance in my direction, but I clicked that and rewarded her with what’s known as a jackpot- a small handful of treats scattered on the ground instead of just one. After that she began circling in every so often with a big grin on her face. She knew exactly what she was doing! And I rewarded her every time.

And then the most amazing thing happened. Reese finished up with her zoomies and settled in at my side, in heel position. Apparently she was done, and since I had just shown her the value of hanging out with me, happy to be by my side. And the coolest part? It all took less than ten minutes. You know what else? Your dog would probably do just as well. Make a plan, go somewhere safe and distraction free (your living room or the back yard are both great choices), and just start clicking for attention. I bet you’ll be amazed at the results.

The after shot. This is one enriched dog! She was calm and happy all morning after her trip to the park.

I don’t expect Reese to have this behavior down yet. I fully expect her to race around like a maniac the next time we head to the park and get distracted by the smallest things. I know her recall is not even close to where I want it. But I do expect her to remember what we worked on and to be more responsive each time we try. This is a behavior that must be built up over time. The take away point here is: Catch your dog doing something right and reward that, and you WILL get more of that behavior.

What are some of the things that work in training your dog? I’d love to read your comments below! Cheers!

8 thoughts on “The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Teach Your Dog”

  1. Very informative article! You made a great point for owners not to expect their pup to immediately remember that 1st lesson. Reese may be “zoomie” the next time you take her to the park, but it does take time. And the more you try, the more responsive she will be :).

    1. Thanks, Kim! We have been continuing to work on this and yes, she is getting more and more responsive! 🙂 The key with Reese is to give her some playtime before we train, just let her settle in to the job. Then she is ready to work!

  2. Excellent, Terri! Your blog looks great and your clear informative and fun writing is wonderful. I’ve signed up and look forward to new updates.

  3. Great information! I have 4 dogs also and I love training them, when there is time ?. You can check out a video of 3 of my 4 showing off their newest tricks, @joannenuzz on Twitter or on my FB page: positivelyjo. I look forward to seeing more from you !

  4. Awesome blog Terri! Just what I needed to read today with this new 12 week old puppy in our lives! We had 3 good days of him coming when we called but now it seems like he thinks it’s more fun to run the other way and have us chase him! Going to go look now for my clickers! They’re around here somewhere! ??

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