My Dog Can Do That: I’m Done Training Right?

February 5th, 2020


by Holly Krueger, Ph.D.

There are two dogs in my household. One is an adolescent and a work in progress. The other is a mature dog, an agility champion, and still a work in progress. She just doesn’t need as much work. Yes it’s true, I still train her. If you were hoping one puppy class would do it, that may come as a shock to you. One class will not do it. Learning and training need to be a part of the dog’s entire life.

When dog’s are just puppies, they need to learn everything including where they can go to the bathroom and where they can’t. Hopefully they learn that one quickly. They are like little sponges soaking up all we give them, for better or worse. It’s rewarding for us to see them learn. To see them plop their little butt down when we say sit, or to come when we call their name. The more training we do the more they learn. Not only do they learn specific behaviors, they learn how to learn. And most important of all, we build our relationship with them through positive training. At the puppy stage it’s all training all the time, whether we know it or not.

As they get older, if we’ve done our job, they’ve learned basic manners and are on the road to becoming good canine citizens. But they’re always learning so we need to keep teaching. Maybe we’ll want to do dog sports with them or maybe we’ll want a companion to share the couch. Whatever we want, we need to keep working with them and reinforcing the behaviors we’re looking for. Consider the recall. In puppy class we reward our dog every time they come to us. They learn that to come to their human is a happy event. Every rewarded recall strengthens the behavior and builds the bond. But with older dogs we’re more likely to think “they know how to do that” and stop rewarding. What happens? You guessed it, the behavior starts to weaken until they no longer come. That’s why I still walk my dog with smelly liver bits in my pocket much to the chagrin of anyone near me. I’m ready to reward.

As they move into middle age and beyond, an interesting phenomenon happens. They seem to stop listening to us and do their own thing more often. Assuming their vision and hearing is intact, what’s going on? Maybe it’s the result of us not working with them and not rewarding their good behavior. Maybe it’s the result of us taking them for granted. That’s never a good thing in any relationship.

Do you need to keep taking classes? Not necessarily but you do need to keep working with your dog. Classes are a fun way for you to stay motivated and keep learning which will help your dog do the same. Learning should never end. Without learning and evolving we might still be doing alpha-rolls on our dogs. The only kind of rolls we should be doing are cinnamon rolls. So get your treats and be ready to reward. Then open your mind and be ready to learn.