My dog was not man's (woman's) best friend. He demanded unlimited dog biscuits in exchange for letting me share the bed at night. His unruly behavior made me the laughingstock of the local doggie park. Friends refused to visit my home because he was so unpredictable.
Part of the problem was my own unwillingness to lay down the law. Yes, his antics were getting out of hand, but I just couldn't bring myself to dampen that enthusiasm with which he greeted every aspect of life. After all, he was a dog, and who was I to say that he should conform to humankind's standards? Part of what I liked about him was his independent spirit. Plus, I was smitten.
But I had to do something, or risk being banned for life from every doggie park in a 20-square mile radius. We had attempted training before, but our sessions usually ended with me flat on the floor, crying "I give up! You win!" But this time would be different. Those other humans at the doggie park wouldn't have me to laugh at anymore! And after doing some research, I realized my mistake had been going in without a plan. In fact, things went a lot more smoothly once I followed these basic rules:
Step one: Choose a command that's easy to learn.
So this is where I had gone wrong. Believing Fido was too intellectually superior for something as elementary as "sit" or "stay," I had immediately tried to master the more complicated tricks. But Fido had a difficult time trying to jump through those hoops, and when I told him to fetch my slippers he just sat back on his rump and howled with laughter. So this time, I decided to start with something simple: sit. It's something my dog does all the time anyway. We could work on jumping through those hoops later. Maybe in a week.
Step two: Be kind but firm.
Patience is key. For the untrained pooch, being expected to obey a command from some human is insulting. When I first broached the subject to Fido, he balked. But after I sat him down for a little talk about his responsibilities in our canine / human relationship, he expressed his total agreement. As soon as he stopped laughing.
Step three: Reward your dog when it successfully performs the command.
This one's tricky. I'm happy to reward my dog when he does something well, but how on earth do I get him to do that? I've never been assertive, something my dog has picked up on. He doesn't buy my feeble efforts at being authoritative. Sometimes he ignores me; other times he barks and dances wildly around my feet. That makes it a little difficult to employ that whole "positive reinforcement" idea. Take this example from our recent training session:
"Sit," I said in my kindest but firmest voice.
Fido stared at me, his expression blank except for the slightest glimmer of a smile. He seemed to be amused. At least one of us was having fun.
Step four: Above all, don't give up.
Fido and I made a lot of blunders at first. Okay, so I was the one who made all of the blunders. But the important thing is, we stuck with it. And the training process did work. We are no longer caught up in a fierce power struggle, each of us desperately trying to gain the upper hand. No, we've finally come to an understanding: I let him do whatever he wants, and he lets me worship the ground he walks on.
A Dog's Version of Utopia