January 8, 2010

Who’s Right?

If you keep up with the dog world at all, you might know that there’s quite a conflict between trainers on exactly HOW to train your dog. Gretchen tells me it’s the same in human education as everyone tries to figure out which teaching methods produce the best results. Gretchen also rolls her eyes when she says this and then follows up by saying, “As if all kids are the same!”

This can also be said about dogs. We’re not all the same and while we all come from the evolutionary branch of the canine tree, each of us has our own unique dog-a-nalities. Gretchen and I have been doing a lot of reading lately about the different dog training camps trying to see if there is some middle ground. In other words, what are our beliefs about dogs?

Well, I’ve been thinking about this all a lot and this is what I think:

We need exercise. All the trainers (and psychologists) say this, and therefore, it feels like a great place to find some common ground. Dog people from Barbara Woodhouse to Cesar Millan to Victoria Stillwell don’t dispute this point and I, for one, am glad. Exercise is so important and while it might look like I’m lobbying for more business (which I’m not), I’m proud to be a part of offering dogs exercise during the day.

But our clients’ walks with us should not be the only exercise they get (and I’m not maintaining that they are), but we often pass houses and yards where dogs are tied up, locked up, our howling from the front windows and it makes us very sad. They rarely get out, if at all, and I know how sad and frustrated they are especially when they watch us walk by all bouncy and happy.

We believe a dog should get a walk in the morning (at least 45 minutes in length) and if they can’t have a walk in the middle of the day, a good hour walk in the evening. If they do get a walk in the middle of the day, they should get a minimum of another half hour in the evening. They should also have opportunities to play — romp, chase, play tug, fetch or swim — because “unstructured” exercise is as important as a structured walk.

In addition, dogs should be challenged. We’re really smart and our minds need to be exercised as much as our bodies. At our house, we play “find it” where Gretchen hides my toy or a treat and my job is to wait patiently until she tells me “go” and then I hunt for the toy or the treat using my nose. We play hide and seek, too, and my favorite game of all is when we play fetch on the stairs. Gretchen throws the ball up the stairs, I wait at the bottom, and when she says, “okay” I race up the stairs and try to get the ball before it makes it back down to Gretchen.

We need work! This might seem like a silly item since we aren’t exactly the breadwinners of the house (well, I kind of am, but Gretchen deposits the checks!). We need to feel valued and work is a great way to make us feel good about ourselves. Obviously, my work is walking other dogs, but I also must work for my food (sit and wait until given permission), work at being patient when someone comes to the door (something I’m not very good at!), and work at staying close to Gretchen while we ski in the mountains.

These may not seem like real jobs to you, but I take them very seriously. Some dogs carry backpacks, some dogs pull carts, some dogs herd sheep, and some dogs (like me) take agility classes, which is a very fun form of work.

Dogs need boundaries! I don’t care what language you use to achieve this, but dogs need to know what they can and cannot do. If left to our own devices, we’ll rip up stuff, digs holes in the backyard, and pee on things that should not be peed on. Remember, we didn’t create houses to live in. Humans did and you have rules about how to behave in those houses. Teach us. Train us. Enroll in obedience classes — not just the introductory one, but classes all the way up to advanced classes so we can really be challenged and educated.  We’ll all be happier. You’ll be happier.

Dogs need love. Yes, we like to be cuddled and cooed over. Yes, we like to be rubbed on our bellies and behind our ears. Yes, we like to be given treats and to hear humans say, “You’re such a good dog!” but we also need to be fed good food, fresh water, and kept out of harms way. Love means exercising us — physically and mentally — and not just putting us in the backyard to explore all alone. Love means letting us hang out with others — both human and canine — because we are social animals. In the wild, we live in packs for a reason and though you can take us out of the pack, you can’t take the pack out of us. Dogs need to be bathed and groomed as well as get regular check ups at the doctor’s office (even if we don’t like it very much). Love is letting us be a part of your family, but not letting us take control of the family. Dogs need adventures. Take us places. Introduce us to new experiences and new situations. Get out in the world and take us along with you. You’ll be surprised how many people will smile at you just because your dog is with you!

For now, that’s what I think. I’m going to continue reading and continue to find common ground and if there are more thoughts that come to mind, I’ll share them with you, but this seems like enough for awhile.

Yes, all the photos are from today’s walks. It rained a lot in the morning so we didn’t take as many photographs as we normally do, but you can see we had lots of adventure and exercise with lots of great dogs who I’m proud to call my friends!

Have a great weekend,


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