Ken Hough's Website


Children need to learn how to behave and to fit into socially acceptable norms. Similarly, dogs need to learn what is expected of them. This is easiest to achieve at the puppy stage rather than when a dog is grown up, but contrary to folk law, even old dogs can learn new tricks although it might take a little longer than is the case for a for a younger dog.

Many owners take or send their dogs to be "trained". This will give a dog opportunities to socialise with other dogs, but IMHO will be of little benefit unless the owner is also trained or already understands dogs. Given the right environment, dogs are usually very quick to learn. Their owners typically take longer.

I have often been asked where I had sent my dog to be trained. I have never done this. My dogs have developed to be very responsive and reliable and we have done that ourselves. How did we do this?

Firstly, I have always tried to pay attention to my dog's body language and just what the dog is trying to tell me. MOST canine communication is via this route and they seem to realise quickly whether or not I am paying attention.

Secondly, I make it plain what I expect of the dog using only simple language -- ideally one word commands that are preceded by the dogs name. Initially, I might reinforce the command by repeating it and possibly by gentle physical pressure. A "switched on" puppy will understand this after only a few attempts.

Thirdly, I try to give lots of TLC and physical closeness.

This is the idealised situation, but of course the dog will also be testing it's own position in the pack. ie whether it or the owner is currently pack leader. If the dog is allowed to assume leadership, training will be a waste of time. Just how the owner assumes leadership depends on the personalities of the owner and of the dog, but it must be based on earned respect and trust and not on over strict discipline and bullying.

My previous springer spaniel had a very gentle, almost introverted nature, so I had to be very gentle with her. We developed a close understanding and trust that sometimes I found to be quite moving. I knew that I could always rely on her!

My present puppy has a much stronger personality and often tries to take over. I have to be much firmer with her, but we are developing a mutual understanding and respect. She's a very quick learner and already I am able to allow her to run freely off the lead and get almost instant response to a recall.

When should training begin? The simple answer is as soon as the dog is ready, typically around the age of 6 months. Some breeds, such as spaniels, are often ready sooner. My present springer spaniel puppy learned to sit for a tit-bit at only 10 weeks old and was retrieving toys soon after this.

Formal training sessions might be needed for specific purposes such as working as a gun dog, or perhaps as a show dog. However, this needs to be as much about training the owner about the required discipline as it is about teaching the dog.

If you are not experienced in managing dogs, then it might be helpful to attend dog training classes. Do remember that it will be you who needs training. Your dog will learn quickly and it's best if it learns from you.

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