Importance of Training

September 9th, 2008

This article first appeared in the March/April 2006 issue of Dogs Life.


The importance of dog training and its positive impact on society is unfortunately underrated in our community. Dogs Life editor Nadia Crighton investigates why training should be mandatory for all people who get dogs, big or small.


At the park, on the street and in backyards all around this great country of ours, there are dogs crying out for some good leadership and human devotion. For too long the notion of getting a dog has been to simply provide the animal with a large enough backyard, some much-needed love and loads of attention. Even though these things are paramount in a dog/human relationship, one important factor is too often forgotten, one that can ensure your dog gets the correct attention in an harmonious and loving environment and one which will improve the bond between you and your dog. Were talking about TRAINING.


There are some who want to liberate our dogs in a notion that seems absurd to many who study and understand doggy language and their needs. Some even wish for our dogs to live like wild dogs, with no leadership, training and sometimes even love. However, the fact remains … our dogs love to be led and have leaders, and the majority, if taught correctly, love to be trained. In fact, in the wild, there are certain dogs in the pack which stay at the den while the others go hunting, looking after the pups and teaching them hunting and survival skills. It makes sense that a major part of responsible dog ownership is committing time to training.


Dogs Life caught up with some of the big guns in the industry to get their thoughts on the subject. The Dog Whisperer and renowned dog trainer, John Richardson, well-known animal behaviourist Dr Debbie Calnon, and Uana Osmani who has been handling and instructing dogs at her establishment P.E.T.S. (Professional Education Training Services) for around 30 years are all aware of the importance of training and how it can improve the amazing bond between you and your dog.


Why train? 

If you own a very placid dog you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Sure your dog may bark now and again or growl at you when you want to move him off the couch, but generally hes pretty well behaved, right? Wrong. If you think your dog is the bees-knees and hasnt had any training before, wait until hes a well-trained dog.


“Of course our dogs need to be educated,” says John Richardson. “We need to start them off as puppies, between eight and 16 weeks of age, which we call the sensitive period. That’s when they are more susceptible to learning and its the prime time to start. A lot of people think they should leave the training until the dog is six months or eight months old, but I believe the earlier, the better. Pups actually start learning as soon as they get all their motor skills and they are constantly learning from their mother.”


Dr Debbie Calnon agrees. “Training allows pets and owners to communicate more effectively and brings about a stronger bond between the two,” she says. “It also means the dog can be taken to the park and other places because it can be controlled and is acceptable to other people.”


Uana Osmani also points out the effects trained dogs can have on the greater community. “If people took training more seriously there would be fewer dog attacks,” she says. “These problems are on the rise because people do not know how to handle a dog or how to read a dogs body language. I would love to be able to tell all dog owners that they don’t know what they have in their backyard unless their dog is trained and has been assessed.”


Osmani also notes the ripple affect trained dogs can have right across the industry. “I think a lot fewer dogs would end up in pounds if people took training

more seriously.”


Good dog! 

Training can improve the appeal of pets in public. Sadly, many in our community do not like dogs. This is normally because these people have had a bad experience at some time or another, more than likely with an untrained dog. It is up to responsible dog owners to take action and make their dogs positive walking billboards for dogs all around the world.


It is true that when someone sees you walking down the street with a well-behaved good dog they immediately think, “Wow, I wish my dog would do that or What a well-behaved, under-control dog. This is good publicity for our dogs, who have been abused in the media lately due to dog attacks and other negative situations. Gone are the days when our canine companions only made the news when they rescued a drowning child. Now it seems its only the bad stuff that gets the publicity. The more we aim to improve our dogs behaviour, the better it is for all dogs around the world.


Calnon agrees that more emphasis should be placed on training for the greater community of dogs. “Many owners do make a significant effort to train and manage their dogs appropriately,” she tells Dogs Life. “It is unfortunate that the minority of irresponsible owners reflect badly on the majority. If we want to stop owning a dog from becoming a more difficult task (due to lack of places to exercise them, breed restrictions etc), then it requires more owners to seriously address their dogs training needs, as well as the other requirements for a happy, healthy dog.”


Richardson also acknowledges what a well-behaved and well-mannered dog means to the community. “A lot of people love dogs but we have to remember that there are also those who are absolutely terrified of them.” Richardson says this is because the message has been sent out to the public that some dogs are not safe to go near or are not seen to be under control.


“Many times, clients will talk to me about that well-mannered dog they saw on the street who sat when it came to the road etc. People really do appreciate and comment on a dog that is well behaved.”


“I think there should be more penalties for people who choose not to train their dogs, especially if the dog ends up in a pound or biting someone,” states Osmani. “If the dog is not trained it will cause a problem. People must be made aware of this. If dog owners would take the time to do the right thing by their animal and put it through training, many of the problems we see with our dogs could be avoided.”


The size issue 

One of the biggest misconceptions about training is the size issue. Owners of big dogs tend to take training more seriously for obvious reasons. Basically, as a large dog owner myself, it is almost impossible to live in harmony with an untrained large dog as their mischief and shenanigans cannot be ignored purely because of their size. When my large Dobermann pups decide to chew up a cushion or have a bite of the skirting board, or pull on the lead, or bark at a stranger … it can cause huge problems and frustration for me as a responsible owner.


However, some owners of smaller dogs tend to turn a blind eye to their poochs bad behaviour or sometimes even label it as cute … especially when the dog becomes aggressive towards people. Because they are small, it can seem almost comical, but howe’ver funny this may seem to some, it really must be addressed. If an untrained smaller dog comes into contact with a trained larger dog and behaves aggressively, you may find the larger dog will snap back … and unfortunately the larger dog will almost ALWAYS get the blame.


John Richardson has seen this in many cases during his impressive career as a dog trainer. “What you’ll find is that usually the smaller dogs have more behavioural problems, meaning they are barkie, bitey dogs because they have had little or no training.” Richardson is quick to point out that constantly picking up your dog and not allowing it to walk, like a dog should, can cause problems. “What people usually do with little dogs is pick them up and walk around with them in their arms like they are their doggy servants! The dog is saying great, this is good, Ive got a human servant! By doing this you are making the dog a high-ranking member of your pack (family). I go to homes where the little dog is barking in the window and is absolutely vicious, carrying on because of its high-ranking place in the pack. It is very important to realise that size does not matter. Smaller dogs need training the same as the larger dogs do.”


Dr Calnon also agrees that dogs need the same amount of training and dedication regardless of their size. “Training is important for both small and large breeds, even though small dog owners will sometimes place less emphasis on it.”


Uana Osmani has also witnessed a few incidents caused by smaller dogs not having adequate training.


“If you allow your small dog to run free without any training it can cause problems with bigger dogs. And the bigger dogs always get blamed even though they are under control or on the lead. When you have a little dog running around, totally disobedient and out of control, it can cause a lot of problems for other dog owners.


“A lot of people make a huge mistake by believing they can let a dog roam free or off the lead with no previous training because its little,” says Osmani. “People should keep their dogs on leash or 100 per cent under control. Owners are responsible for their dog and its behaviour, regardless of size.”



No dog is untrainable. If you have ever been told this, you have not invested enough time and energy in finding the right dog trainer. Some dogs will require behavioural modification or desensitisation by a professional before they can become more responsive to training, but no dog is untrainable. All dogs are different; while some will respond to one form of training, others may not. To give up on your dogs trainability is to give up your control or care of your animal.


Unfortunately, there are many cowboys in the industry who really shouldn’t be practising as dog trainers and have convinced many dog lovers that their dog has no hope. Your dog does have hope … you just need to find the right trainer so doing your homework is important. It is also important to start from the word go, but hope is not lost if you haven’t trained your dog from puppyhood (see Embarrassed? How to get started section).


“It is important to think about puppy training and there are many puppy schools around now. That’s where people should start off,” Richardson recommends. “Dogs also need to be educated and this is what training is all about. The need to train our dogs is greater today as we get more restrictions and rules to comply with in order to be responsible dog owners. If you haven’t got them trained, how are you going to comply with these rules?”


Richardson also points out that you can’t have harmony from a creature that is out of control in our society. “If a dog is not trained it can get run over,” he says. “Leaving a dog in the backyard and never giving it any training will cause it to show behavioural problems. The dog may become destructive or aggressive and it may become fearful because it hasnt been socialised correctly.”


As we can see, choosing not to train your dog can have huge consequences and complications down the track. Training should not be seen as a punishment or a chore; it should be a gesture of love towards your dog.


Calnon also notes that the dog can start to feel out of place if it does not have adequate training. “The lack of control the owner has can cause safety issues for the dog, such as running under a car, and problems for others in the community, such as jumping up on strangers,” Calnon suggests. “Training helps to foster a good relationship between the dog and owner which is an integral part of providing clear rules and boundaries for the dog. Without this, the dog is more likely to be anxious and to behave in a socially unacceptable manner.”


Embarrassed? How to get started 

Read books.

Get on the phone and start talking to people in the industry.

Swallow your pride and call up a training school.

Get some in-house, one-to-one training with your dog to

start off.

Get professional help.

Speak to a boarding kennel like P.E.T.S. which can actually train your dog while it is in boarding kennels or can advise you on some expert help.

Ask for help and don’t be afraid to say I NEED SOME ASSISTANCE.

Do your homework and be aware of the cowboys out there and conflicting information. Makes sure your research comes from a valid source.

Find a good trainer … ask lots of questions and get references. Treat the process as you would if it was your childs teacher or school.

Go along to a class without your dog to see if it is suitable and to put your mind at ease.

Talk to your vet, neighbour, friends and family about your problem and what you want to do.

Make up a list of realistic expectations of your dog and ask a dog trainer if these are possible.

Make a promise to yourself and your dog NOW that you will ensure it gets the training it needs to make it a better companion.

Prove yourself wrong and find a trainer who can help; don’t take no for an answer.

Do your research so you realistically know what you want and how to go about it.

Disregard any bad information, outdated training methods or inhumane practices.


More complicated problems?

You should get advice from a professional dog trainer or behaviourist if:

Your dog is showing signs of aggression

You’re beginning to feel out of control or highly frustrated

You’re having thoughts of destroying the dog

Your dog is highly fearful of you or other situations

You want to rule out any underlying behavioural issues.


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