General Life Skills Every Dog Should Have

I’ve met every range of person when it comes to dogs and dog training. Some believe training isn’t “necessary” and the 4 dogs they had before the one with aggression I got called for “never had any obedience training”. These folks often live in the country and allow their dogs to roam free so their need for leash manners and a good recall is actually pretty low. On the other end of the spectrum is the owner who wants their dog to do it all. These folks start with basics, then get a driving hunger to learn all that is dog training. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either of these folks, but they both in the same sense could cause problems with their dog for different reasons.

The reason I give this example is because I view training a little differently than most trainers, let alone average pet owners. I believe their are life skills a dog must posses in order to get by in our world. The thing is, these skills can be hidden within proper obedience training, so for some, it pushes them away from ever teaching their dog. These life skills teach your dog about his world, and once he has a clear understanding of how to navigate these situations, he’ll live a happier life in our twisted, confusing human world.

Life Skill #1—Yielding To All Kinds Of Pressure

This is a broad stroke, but it’s all tied together. My simpler version of this at one time was just “Accept guidance from the leash”, but I have expanded it to include other types of guiding pressure that goes beyond the leash. A dog who knows to go-with-the-flow so to speak is a dog who knows how to get along. This can be seen when I do leash work drills with my own dogs. They only require fingertip amounts of leash pressure in a certain direction to understand where I need them. This gives me a large amount of control over where they are and really helps me when navigating busy streets or crowded areas with them. They’ve learned pressure can be a good thing—it gives them vital information about their world and what I need from them. This holds true for other types of pressure too, such as spatial pressure (moving into the space your dog is currently occupying to get him to move) and different types of physical pressure. A dog who learns to give to pressure is a dog who is less confused when he feels it. This creates a language of communication many dog/human teams never take the time to learn.

Here’s a great example of a drill I give my reactive dog clients. This drill is meant to do two things. 1) It helps the human learn to be soft with the leash and focus on feel to release the pressure 2) It creates space for a nervous dog while putting you in between the stressor and the dog. This creates trust in the handler to handle potential conflicts.

Life Skill #2—Remaining Calm (or at least quiet) In a Crate Or Kennel

This is something that still meets contention in the dog owner world, and I’m not quite sure why. Many separation anxiety cases I get called to have one thing in common. They don’t crate their dog. Not only that, the similarities go a step further. They don’t do it ANYMORE. Almost all of them at one time or another tried crating their dog, but because the dog threw such a fit, they abandoned the idea all together because they didn’t want the dog to do damage to itself.

This is a completely reasonable train of thought. Why would I want to stuff my pup into an enclosed space knowing he’s going to freak, claw and bite at it to the point he could actually sustain injury?

Well, the first problem lies in the perception that crating a dog for long periods is cruel, and the next lies in application.

Dogs are known to be “den dwellers”. Meaning they like the comfort of small enclosed spaces. If your dog is particularly twitchy about the world, a crate can provide a sense of safety. I even encourage my clients who are expectant mothers to crate-train as part of pre-baby protocols. Why? Because when that dog has had enough of the child, he needs a place to go that’s all his own, away from human contact so he can just decompress. If you’ve ever met (or are) an introverted person, you’ll know this feeling.

But the biggest reason I hear for dogs not being crate training (besides the above mentioned) is “There’s always someone home” or “The dog is always with me”.

By the way, that’s awesome. I love hearing that one of my clients gets to spend the vast majority of his time with his dog so long as it doesn’t cause a ton of stress in the dog’s life (sometimes your dog needs a break from you too!).

BUT!

What happens if your dog needs to go to the vet for surgery and he needs to stay overnight? Unless you have the coolest vet in the world, there’s a good chance Fido isn’t sleeping in the vet’s bed with him. Or what about a family emergency and you can’t bring the dog and all your pals are busy… so now you have to take your dog to a boarder and they might or might not use kennels or crates!

The point is, even though your lifestyle with your dog doesn’t warrant crate or kennel training, it’s STILL a good skill for your dog to have regardless. That way, if he’s ever put in the situation where he needs to be in one, he’s not clawing it until his paws bleed to get out because he doesn’t know how to handle the stress.

Life Skill #3—Being Cool Without A Leash

Here’s something many dog owners never get to because they still think it requires months and months and years of training and hard world to achieve. There’s still a myth regarding “off leash reliability” that it is this great mantel of success when in reality, it takes no time at all (just a few weeks and lots of clear, consistent information) to have a dog who doesn’t need a leash.

Now wait a minute, isn’t there leash laws? YES! Always obey leash laws! I’m not saying go downtown tomorrow and rip your dog’s leash off in an effort to give the middle finger to the city (I certainly have not done that). BUT AGAIN!

What if your dog’s collar breaks? I’ve seen this happen with every major type of collar, prongs, chokes, haltis, flat buckles and martingales. I’ve seen them all BREAK during training. So what happens then? What happens when the collar comes off and you no longer have that management system attached to your dog? Will he still listen? Will he sense freedom and bolt?

Let’s be clear on one thing… MANAGEMENT ALWAYS FAILS. It’s one of those “for sure” things in life, like death and taxes. If your dog views his collar and leash as a management system, when it goes away it leaves room for the bad behaviour it’s suppressing to resurface. That pulling on leash that the halti stops? You can be sure that’s not going away when the thing breaks off!

I got a great quote from a mentor of mine once and I’m paraphrasing, but it came from Chad Mackin and he said “An untrained dog sees the leash coming off as the shackles being dropped. He’s free, and he’ll exercise that freedom by running away and avoiding our commands. A dog in training will express some insecurity when the leash comes off as that vital communication is gone. A trained dog when his leash comes off will not even notice it’s gone”. This is a great summation.

I don’t train for off leash reliability to show off… I train for off leash reliability for the day where I no longer have a leash available to communicate to my dog. I know he’ll still listen. See THIS STORY as evidence!

This young Presa learned to be off leash reliable in just 3 weeks… This video was 15 days into his 21 day program with me

For more information on Wade’s Dogmanship’s BootCamps… CLICK HERE

Life Skill #4—Impulse Control and Decision Making

Until recently, dogs were largely viewed as simple input/output machines. All their behaviour and choices were dictated by pre-conditioning. Ask any dog owner from the begining of time who hasn’t read any of B.F. Skinners work, they’ll gladly tell you their dog thinks. But up until recently, this fact wasn’t supported by science. Well, now it is.

But I’ve never been a large proponent of letting science back up my work. A carpenter doesn’t need physics to know a nail can hold a piece of wood together real well… he just does it. So Google it because I have no interest in siting double-blind, peer reviewed studies… I’ve got dogs to train.

So here is my nitty gritty when it comes to dogs, thinking and decision making…

A dog who lacks self control is impulsive. He goes with his instincts first, the first thought. So for many dogs, when they see a prey object like a squirrel their first thought (sometimes only thought) is “that thing needs a good chasin'”. A dog who has never been asked to exercise impulse control rushes to choices. This is also a problem and prime cause for aggression in my opinion. A dog who bites first is a dog who won’t make it terribly far in our world.

Here’s the flip and what I attempt to accomplish through training…

A dog who has learned and can exercise impulse control has the ability to make choices. If the dog has the ability to stop that adrenaline spike when he sees the squirrel, that’s long enough for me to give him more information and feedback about what I want from him when that distraction is present so I can literally rework his behaviour habits. Before the habit used to look like this:

see squirrel>adrenaline>chase squirrel

After some impulse control training and teaching the dog to ignore distractions… it might look like this

see squirrel>adrenaline>STOP AND CONTROL>Think for a moment (at this point, if the dog is early in training, I’ll recall him back to me. If it’s later in training and he’s had many repetitions of this scenario and knows what’s expected of him, I’ll wait for HIM to make a choice and give him feedback on it. If he does chase, he’s corrected).

Dogs Food floorPeople get to see this all the time with my dogs around food especially. My Lab mix has a fantastic amount of self control around food, but because people aren’t used to dogs with self control, Rocky gets told “no” a lot just for sniffing. I use Rocky as a demonstration frequently when it comes to dogs making choices based on training. I’ll have food on my lap and won’t say a word and Rocky will come up, sniff it and go lie down. He’ll never try and steal food off a human plate and rarely begs (unless it’s steak… they aren’t robots). This self control came from days of doing downstays around our table scraps to solidify in his mind this rule: Just because food is unprotected or even on the floor, doesn’t mean it’s yours to eat freely.

This is a complex subject that will be covered in a different post at some point, but the bottom line of this life skill is this

Self Control is like a muscle. The more it’s worked, the stronger it gets. The less it’s worked, the more likely it will atrophy. Every time your dog is put in a stay and presented with something that tempts him to break, he’s faced with a choice. Follow the impulse or control himself. The more he does this, the easier it gets for him to ignore the things of the world that make him… squirrely? 

Check out Rocky helping me distraction proof a BootCamp Dog. This was only a 6 Day JumpStart BootCamp and this was being done on day 5. For any dog, ignoring a ball AND a dog in motion is hard mental work.

Here’s a semi private group of my past clients doing some distraction proofing as well

This is not a finished list. As I grow in my studies of dogmanship things end up getting added, removed and altered all the time to this list. But this is the foundation, the fundamentals of what I believe every dog should know to exist in every facet of our world.

Think I missed something? Leave it in the comments!

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