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Listen to the Lessons I Teach and Practice What I Preach

Do as I say, not as I do. Famous last words. All of us can advise others on the proper way to do things. We know precisely and exactly what someone else should do. We can see clearly with perfect 20/20 sight. When it comes to ourselves, well that is a whole different story. We are suddenly struck blind, deaf and dumb.

I had been a dog trainer for a number of years when Valiant came into our home. My beautiful White German Shepherd Valiant is an amazing dog. I was blessed the day he came into our lives. And I immediately made every mistake possible when it comes to training. And I should know better! But when it is your dog, all of the perfect 20/20 vision in seeing what needs to be done to accomplish the goal goes right out the window.

Simple concepts such as end on a successful completion of an exercise, be consistent, walking on a loose leash, incorporate training snippets as part of your entire day, etc. etc. etc. just does not get done.

Recently I have discussed this subject of training your own dogs vs. training other people's dogs with some very talented trainers I know and they have had the same experience. I even read a training article by a top trainer in a national publication a few days back and she too was talking about the very same thing.

I am writing this to teach myself. I am writing this to remind myself of the training method I should live and breath as naturally as I can pop chocolate into my mouth. These are the most important concepts to keep in mind not just when I am in class but when I am living my life with my boys. Please join me, maybe we can all learn a lesson along the way.

Lesson Number One: to myself above all the others, no matter what, is:


Stay Calm. Breath! Relax, breath. I must say those words a million times to new puppy parents. When their new puppy is not responding with the action desired, the volume goes up, their shoulders go up to their ears and their breathing becomes shallow and rapid and that's just in the humans.

The humans are agitated, the puppies are clueless and things just get out of control from there. I have done exactly the same thing. Valiant was not doing what I wanted, which was lay down. Of course if I say it louder he will now suddenly understand. "LAY DOWN", I commanded in my best loud and low voice.

What I accomplished was getting upset and getting Valiant (AKA "V") rattled. I of course then did what I know to be fool proof. I shouted even louder, my breaths were coming short and shallow, and I was flapping and waving my arms around like I was directing traffic around the Coliseum in Rome. All to no avail I might add.

I see this often in class. Mom and dad waving their arms and shouting and the puppy jumping around like a hooligan and everyone gets frustrated and angry. This is where I often intervene and go up and place my hand on the shoulder of who is holding the leash. I lean in very close to them and whisper, "Okay now relax, breath, slowly breath." I then take my hand and apply a little bit more pressure on their shoulder in a downward movement. "Are you breathing slowly now? Deep breaths, calmly, see your shoulders are up in your ears, relax, drop your shoulders, breath slow, breath big deep breaths in and out." As I continue to hold their shoulder with my hand and drop it down to its natural position.

Then they stop and say hey wait the dog is still going nuts and not doing what I want. Their shoulders go back up and the breathing becomes shallow again. I continue on holding their shoulder and I say "ignore the puppy for a moment." "This puppy is not going to be able to get control, none the less do what you want, unless you are in control and can lead the puppy precisely and exactly the way you want. And right now you can't do that. Let's get control of you first, then the dog."

Soon the puppy's mom and dad are breathing slowly and calmly. They are looking in my eyes and relaxing and intensely focusing on what I am instructing them to do. Now when they look at their puppy, the puppy sees and senses the difference. The puppy sees the calm and pays attention. The person gives the voice command and the hand signal and uses a treat to reward the behavior and the puppy completes it perfectly. Wow! Everyone is happy and calm. What a difference it makes!b78256

Once again, lesson number one to myself above all the others, no matter what, is: Stay calm, breath, relax.

Do it with me now, stay calm, breath deeply, let it out slowly, take it in with slowly gradually deeper and fuller breaths. Ah, relax, breath stay calm! This is exactly what I need to do with Valiant. How can I expect my V to follow my lead if I'm shouting and agitated? I can't expect anything from V or any other dog working with me unless I am calm, in control and leading from within my centered soul!

Good, great beginning. Now what is next? Where is the second place I mess up most often when I am working with my beloved boy Valiant? What else don't I do? Actually the question should be what do I do too much? I push it too far. I expect more than success. I go farther than possible. I end on failure not on success. Lesson Number Two: END ON SUCCESS, GIVE THEM THE ANSWERS TO THE TEST BEFORE YOU GIVE THEM THE TEST, STOP WHEN YOU ARE AHEAD!

If my puppy can sit here for a nano second then my puppy knows how to sit over there for ten minutes perfectly. That is a big mistake on my part. We expect more from our animals, we push them past what they have learned and beyond what we have taught and then wonder why they fail. We get frustrated and think the dog is bad, not paying attention, stupid, can't learn, I could go on and on. The truth of the matter is we set the poor dog up to fail. We give them a test and we have never taught them what the answers are.

My Valiant is a big time barker and he barks the most when he is on leash and sees another dog. He goes nuts and foolish me I just played right into the whole thing so I helped set the behavior in him. I knew the right way to do it. But, oh I'm smarter than that and I'm a skilled trainer and I passed up about ten steps in the process and boom, I've got a barker and blaster.

When Valiant sees another dog far away in the distance and he does not bark I give him a special treat. When I ask him to give me his attention and he looks at me, I give him another special treat. When I take one step in the direction of that dog far off in the distance and then stop and V sits quietly at my side I give him another even more rewarding treat. And that is where I should stop! Turn around tell him how great he was and take him away from that dog far off in the distance.

Valiant had succeeded in doing THREE very difficult things. He did not bark, he gave me all of his attention and he took a step closer to that dog and continued to be quiet and give me his attention. That was huge. Only silly me with my striving mentality, with the more is always better thoughts ingrained in my brain from childhood, I tried to push beyond what I thought was simple and not very much. I did not recognize that what I got was tremendous. I set poor Valiant up for failure by pushing past his success.

Yes we want to have our dogs learn more and do more and get better. There is no question about that. But, we can not ask them to do things they have not yet learned or are not yet capable of doing. We must take it slow and go at the pace our puppies and our dogs are capable of learning, not at the pace of hyper speed we want. We may live in the twenty-first century of 24/7 instant gratification but our companions do not. Remember that and flow along at the progress rate your dog is going at, you will then be working together in complete harmony!

Lesson Number Three: LIVE IT, BREATHE IT, BE IT. Live it throughout the day, make training the way of your day. Incorporate it wholly and completely so it is what you do, not what you think about and remember later and they try to fit it in. It must become what you do naturally. You are what you teach.

Through the years I have been told the following story by many a puppy mom or dad. I admit I have my own version of this story too. It's three o'clock in the morning. The puppy just woke up because he has to pee, it is the middle of January and it is twenty degrees below zero. What do you do?

We are in our pajamas and we quickly put on our slippers and rush to the door to let the little pip out to pee. We open the back door; gently give the little whiner a push and say "hurry up go pee." The puppy scampers out and relief is immediate. "Good you're done, come in" we say. Our hand is on the doorknob and we are starting to shut the door when we realize little "Boo-Boo" is heading in the exact opposite direction.

So far this is not too bad, it is what most everyone does next that causes all the big problems. "Ah Crap" or "*&*#*#@%" the unprintable quickly comes out of our mouths in a loud and mad voice and we take three or four stomps towards that darn rotten puppy and then say in an even louder voice "Get in the house right now." Now we've blown it, we don't quite realize why, because it is three in the morning, it is beyond freezing out and we are not completely awake.

This is why we must live what we train. This is why it must become what we are. Because at three in the morning when we are not capable of a single rational thought we must have the ability to get that little puppy in the house easily and with out thought instead of what usually happens next.

The pup takes a backward glance at us and for the life of that pup he has no idea why we are mad and yelling and being very threatening and coming at him like that. The puppy could not be happier. He has relived himself outside where directed. He has slept for more hours straight than he ever has before in his life and there is a beautiful full moon out lighting up the yard in a way he's never seen before. It's time to play and investigate and explore the same way he does when he goes out at three in the afternoon. He does not understand why this is any different.

Instead we are furious. That is it we've had it. We half run, half stomp after that darn dog waving our arms and yelling at the dog to get in the house. Now the puppy is scared. He has no idea what he did wrong. But he is in trouble and he does not want to get punished by a very angry, upset raving lunatic. The puppy takes off and runs as fast as he can to get away.

It is freezing, the wind is blowing, howling actually out of the north, bare skin is now frost bitten beyond repair and what are we doing? Running full speed down the street screaming at the top of our lungs, "COME BACK HERE RIGHT NOW." Little "Boo-Boo" is running for his life faster than he ever ran before. We can't run any more. We are spent. We stop and bend over at the waist panting and gulping for breath.

The puppy stops thirty feet away and looks at us doubled over. The puppy then thinks; "Oh what's this, our human is not really mad, is that a play bow? Yes okay let's play. You chase me and I'll play keep away." We are two blocks away from home, we are going to need emergency treatment to save our frozen toes and fingers and now we were yelling so loud a few lights start popping on in our neighbor's homes. Oh just great who is going to call the cops first on us for disturbing the peace. The puppy is running around always just out of reach and our spouse by this time has turned over in bed sound asleep and has no idea we never came back. There is no one to help until the cops show up that is and won't that be fun in jail in our jammies. We are now officially going to let the puppy run away and freeze to death and we are going home before we die.

We continue to chase the little one around and around as more neighbors' lights go on and as we get colder and colder and just can not believe we are doing this. Finally we catch a break and the puppy runs into a yard with a fence and gets trapped between the fence and the garbage can.

We scoop up that rotten, miserable, good for nothing, awful, stupid why did I ever want a puppy and trudge back home as our neighbors lights start going off as they laugh out loud as they watch us scurrying home on this cold winters night. We will be the talk of the neighborhood for the entire next year at all the events and the featured star at the big block party. And then there went _______ (fill in the blank with any one of our names) screaming after little "Boo-Boo" in pink PJ's with the elephants. We are mortified, ashamed and embarrassed enough to last three life times.

That is why we all must live it everyday, every moment and every fiber of our being must be how you teach your dog. It must be who you are all the time. If we had incorporated training as a way of life from the very beginning, then when it was three in the afternoon, we would have brought our wonderful puppy back into the house in a different way. That way would have become the only way and then at three in the morning in the freezing cold it would have been the way of life for our puppy and in he would have come and back to sleep we all would have gone.

We would never let our puppy out without a long line if he could get away from us and stay away from us before he had a reliable recall. Or we would have taken our puppy out on a leash after first putting on our coat and boots. We would have done those things because they would be a part of our life. Instead we scampered around the neighborhood and froze our backside off for all the neighbors to see because we did not live it. If we do not train during the normal course of our day, then how can we possibly expect our puppies to come back in at three A.M.? We must live it and be it for our lives to be much easier. And so I end with the three most important things to do:




Listen to my lessons, learn them well. Trust me I know it will make your life and your dog's life what it should be! It has made all the difference in my life and Valiant's life too. I have taken them to heart. This past September my gentle and sweet boy "V" passed not only his Canine Good Citizen test but also his Therapy Dog International test. Valiant has been spreading joy as a therapy dog on numerous occasions. Your sweet puppy can be spreading that same joy in your family sooner than you think. All you have to do is stay calm, end on success and make training the way of your life.

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