January isn’t only National Blood Donor Month, or National Slow Cooking Month—it’s National Train Your Dog Month, too. Who knew? So if you have a furry little troublemaker—maybe a leash puller, a jumper, or a loses-his-mind-when-the-doorbell-rings’r—at home, now is as good a time as any to consider training. Come to think of it, it’s never too late to teach your dog, even an old one, new tricks.
Luckily the East End offers a plethora of opportunities for professional dog training. ARF in Wainscott presents classes for dogs of every age, from basic obedience and therapy prep classes to scent work and tracking classes. Matthew Posnick, a trainer and instructor at ARF, says that seeking professional help is always a good idea, if only to get a few pointers. “Trainers quickly spot problems and can save lots of time in both the learning process and the unlearning of bad training habits,” he says.
And training doesn’t only benefit your best canine friend. “Training is a great bonding experience,” says Marianne Carrano Deszcz, owner of Houndstown in Port Jefferson. “You work together as a team. It isn’t the owner being irritated all the time and the dog being confused. You learn to speak each other’s language. It takes commitment, but it’s gratifying when you and your dog finally ‘get’ one another.”
It’s important to seek professional help as there is no one-size-fits-all, step-by-step process to dog training. While consideration of breed and size are not crucial to most basic training programs, it should be accounted for in some instances, as there are always variations. “Herding dogs will respond differently to movements than, say, terriers,” Posnick explains. “Care must be taken when teaching smaller breeds to walk on a leash in order to keep them from getting underfoot. Huskies will tend to pull on a leash.” So if you dream of an idyllic stroll on the beach with your pooch, but he or she has different doggy ideas, get a trainer. It won’t take much.
While basic commands can be learned in as little as three days, Posnick reminds us that dog training is an ongoing process: “One doesn’t train a dog, say for a month, then simply go on with life.” Time and practice are needed, and the higher the level of performance an owner expects directly relates to the time spent. Once a dog learns a command—sit, for example—then the dog must learn to sit whenever and wherever commanded. “Teaching a behavior is only the beginning of a dog’s learning process. Months are required.” And don’t make the same mistakes many owners make. By allowing your dog to jump up onto you when you come home from work, you “train” him or her to do the same to your company when they come for dinner. If you always respond to a barking dog, they learn that barking is a way to get what they want.
A trick for owners to learn: keep at it. One of the most counter-productive things owners do is to not follow through with training. “Dogs don’t ‘flunk out’ of training on their own,” Deszcz says. “Their people don’t follow up and reinforce what they’ve learned.” She also reminds us that there’s a trainer out there for everyone—or every dog—you just have to find them, and that it’s important to find a trainer who you and your dog can connect with. Don’t let your disappointment in one trainer sour you on the idea of dog training altogether. The idea that a dog is un-trainable is one of the primary reasons why dogs end up in shelters. “Pet ownership takes commitment,” she says, “and so does training.”
And no, dog training will not make your cuddly critter a personality-less robot, a common misconception according to Deszcz. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth,” she says. “It makes them calm, focused and far happier overall, since they don’t have to be in charge all the time. Dogs take comfort in having a strong leader.”