Do you teach fun? Or Practical?


I was watching a friends dogs hanging out in her backyard and I kept hearing a neighbor over the fence say a phrase over and over and over again I was trying to figure out exactly what was going on.  To me it sounded like pure gibberish but at the same point it was consistently the same phrase over and over and over again.   Then there was quiet and then you’d hear it happen again.  There was something that he was trying to communicate to the dog but the dog was not getting. So out of curiosity I walked over and peeked through the fence.

The owner was trying to teach one of his St. Bernard’s puppies to “shake.”  This dog owner currently has two St. Bernard puppies which hang out primarily in the backyard or in the house and probably have never seen pavement other than maybe to go to the vet.  They are approximately about 5/6 months old and they’re beautiful boys.

So I’m watching him stand in front of one of the puppies and repeatedly saying the phrase for “shake” while extending his hand out.  The puppy was looking at him going “I’m sorry, I don’t get it what are you saying but why don’t you just give me the treat.”  After repeating the phrase about five or six times and the owner extending his hand, the pup finally would give him his paw. The pup would get a treat.  The owner then would repeat the phrase over and over and over again for about six times to then try to get the puppy to lift his paw and then give him a treat.

There was a repetition in training today.  If one was barking he would say their name and stop, say their name again and stop, then say his name again and stop. He would repeat this for five times until the puppy would stop barking.

I see this all the time in classes and also in private training.   We repeat without even thinking about it.  We as humans understand how to talk to each other, but we really have no clue how to communicate in dog language.   So we try what we know which is talking to them in English or whatever language your ethnicity caters  to, and we hope for the best.  Human nature is we expect that if we say it enough times that the dog will get what we’re saying.   Keep in mind we know exactly what we want the dog to do, but we don’t always know how to communicate this.  You know that you want the dog to sit and put their butt down so if you just keep saying the word “sit” enough, they’ll put their butt down and then you treat hoping for the same result next time.

The first problem with this concept is that the puppy is actually being trained to do it after he says it FIVE OR SIX TIMES versus just the first time.   So at this point the owner doesn’t get that he’s going to end up having to say it five or six times because that’s what the training session included. His focus is the fact that the puppy did it.

The second issue with what he was doing is that he’s TEACHING A SAINT BERNARD TO SHAKE… this can have a disastrous effect later on when the puppy wants attention and comes up and punches you in the face with his paw and looks at you adoringly saying you taught me to do this right ? A past client who has a St. Bernard chose not to teach shake because they didn’t want their dog constantly punching them in the face which is very smart.

When people think about training, they train what is fun versus what is practical.  I saw the owner of the St. Bernard’s face when the dog brought up his paw.   He truly did feel that he accomplished something pretty awesome. He wasn’t thinking about long term.   Teaching a dog to shake is definitely a fun parlor trick and something that you can show off to friends.  Teaching dogs to sit pretty, spin or roll over makes a dog look extremely smart.  Teaching your dog tricks is a very good way to stimulate their minds and to challenge them mentally, however, as a trainer I think about life saving commands that are incredibly important such as “Coming when Called.”  Other commands that benefit a dogs forward motion is the word “Stay” or having them “wait at the door way” so that they don’t rush out,  Learning how to “walk on leash” and teaching them “leave it” so they don’t eat that dead rabbit are also important for a dog to know.

“Shake” is much more exciting than the command “Stay.”  Of course when your dog bolts out the front door and wants to run across the street with a car coming if you ask it to “shake” that’s gonna be the last command it does before it gets hit by the car and did not save it’s life.  Owners need to realize that those parlor tricks are great for bonding time and when the dog id bored, but they need to think practically to save the dogs life.  

If you have a hunting dog and you’re doing it because you want to win a trial, an agility dog and you’re doing it because you want to win a run or even a dog where you’re competing in obedience practical makes sense. As a typical owner, those basic practical commands don’t make sense until their dog almost gets hit by a car or runs away from them and isn’t listening.  Then suddenly, IT NEEDS TO LISTEN!

The summary of my blog today is understanding that you need to do a little bit of both.   As children we start out in school learning all of the practical things and important things that we need to know in order to survive every day life.  It’s boring, we don’t feel like doing it however we are forced to do it and we learn to do it as a regular basis.  Teachers do throw in fun things like recess, craft projects or sports to help keep us stimulated and having fun. Overall, we still have to do those practical things every day.  We have to sit nicely in our seats, we have to listen to what they’re teaching that day and we have to play nice with others otherwise we DON’T get to sit with the kids at lunch and we DON’T get to participate in recess. Our parents see the value in sending us to school because it helps with our development.  They are dropping us off and letting the professionals take over.

So really in the dog world if most owners could send their dogs to class in training from kindergarten through senior year and then have them for a summer and then send them off to college for another 4 to 5 years it probably would be more ideal because that’s how humans do it.  By the time you are an adult, you are far easier to work with! Parents work with the kids every day and teach their kids how to respect them and act at home and in public when they go places however, the teaching is primarily done during the day for a period of eight hours.  We learn how to listen, play well with others and use problem-solving skills while maturing at the same time.

Some dog owners will actually send their dogs away for training programs where the dog returns well behaved and in good control.  However, the professionals do it.  It also takes 6 months to a year and is EXPENSIVE!! If you choose to do it on your own it is going to take time and commitment! This is where classes are great and making the right choices is the best option! Start early, continue through adulthood and be happy!





The RUFF Foster Book: Part 1



Step one: Educate Yourself About Dogs

Research: Know what it takes to care for a dog and find the right balance of your home.

Council: If you’re already a dog owner, make sure to speak with a trainer on how to introduce a new foster dog into your home properly.

Gated Community: Make sure you have gates up and make proper boundary. Having a crate for each new foster that comes in, establishing feeding areas so they each have their own area and look at your schedule and routine so that you can look at exercise you should be off to a great start!

As a foster your responsibilities are:  

-Feed your dog twice daily.

-Walk your dog every day if not every other day. Good exercise helps decrease possibilities of destructive behavior.

-Train your foster dog commands for the future owner such as sit, down, stay, come and leave it.

-To crate train and potty train your Foster dog for its future owner.

-You should also be taking note of any behavioral problems that you see or any issues that may be something that needs to be brought to the organizations attention.  Some things to watch for are; Separation Anxiety, where the dog barks a lot or whines a lot when being left alone.  Destructive behavior, such as chewing on things that are not being designated for the dog. Any kind of aggressive, protective or territorial behavior when you’re home regarding visitors and/or dogs.  Also any type of fearful behaviors to new surroundings, environment or even to you.

-You should be taking your foster dog out to new environments to help with mental stimulation and also to desensitize to things that it’s not aware of.

-How does your foster dog feel about children?  Has it been around children?

-Each foster parent should be equipped with the following tools: a kennel/crate for daily use, a muzzle just in case you need to have safe introductions with your new dog and a check off list to fill out your assessment.

-Each foster dog should have good knowledge of all of the basic obedience commands and if they are not they should be taught or trained these commands. Then as a foster parent, you should be teaching each foster dog these commands that enters your home.

-If a foster parent experiences any behavioral issues that cannot be handled by themselves, they need to consult with a trainer to take care of the issue immediately and possibly put the dog on a restricted adoptive list for a period of time until it is taking care of and signed off on by the trainer and organization.

-Assessments of each dog should be done and documented BEFORE the foster parent has the dog. Each dog should be paired with the correct foster parent regarding this assessment.

-A two-week probationary period should be in place to make sure the foster dog is adjusting correctly to the foster home with a secondary foster parent home set up in case it needs to move.

-Each foster parent should be ready for at least a 2 to 3 months time frame to start with their new foster dog unless it is a young puppy that will easily be adopted.

-If a foster parent receives a dog that is going to need behavioral work and more intense training, their foster-hood may last closer to six months.  They should always be on a training program with a trainer to monitor their progress.

-Each foster dog that goes into a foster home should be required to go through a basic training program.  The foster parent is required to assist in this. Even if the foster dog does not last in the foster parents home for the complete period of the training class they should still attend all of the training classes up to that point.

-Foster care is not about just housing a dog, it is about preparing the rescue dog for its new home so that the transition can be easy and positive.  If I dog is adopted too quickly or has not gone through the training process the chances of the transition and the success rate can go down by 50%.

For more questions on being a foster parent and working with a foster dog, contact us at! Stay tuned for our next part!