Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Three Kinds of Training

Raising Krypto (my now-four-months old Boxer) these last two months has made me start thinking that "training" comes in three general flavors in these early stages: Socialization, Manners and Obedience.

1.  Socialization
This is the most important - almost all important - if you have a very young puppy (less than 16 months old).  I firmly believe that nearly all the difference between an easy-to-own dog and a frustration-machine is created in the first 3-4 months of life and how much socialization the puppy is exposed to.  Puppies that get a chance to see the world, people and other dogs in all their infinite variations, always in a positive, non-forced way will grow up to be happy, confident dogs.   Dogs that are fearful, aggressive, cowering, anxious... these are nearly always dogs that missed out on proper socialization, and oftentimes the damage is so great that it cannot be erased, only minimized.

2.  Manners
This is the rest of creating an "easy" dog (the part that the "nearly all the difference" in the previous paragraph didn't cover).  Manners refers to what you teach your dog to do without being asked.  When your dog jumps on you and you instantly turn your back on him, so that he learns that jumping will not get him attention, that is Manners. When you notice your dog pick up a proper toy on his own and you get happy and play with him for a few seconds, so that he starts to gravitate towards toys and not your shoes, that is Manners.  In neither case did you need to tell your dog "Off" or "Get a toy"; you're teaching him to do these things automatically.

3.  Obedience
Obedience is having your dog do what you tell him to do.  The irony of Obedience is that is what most owners primarily focus on and ask for, but is actually the least important part of what they actually want!

Good socialization and good manners is really all that is needed to create a dog that most owners would love to have.  Imagine a dog that is happy to meet strangers and dogs, doesn't rush forward or leap up but rather is relaxed and gentle; that plays with its toys and never chews on clothing or the furniture; that is housetrained; that waits politely to be invited before jumping on the couch to snuggle; that walks calmly on the leash.  Sounds like heaven, right?  All of that is socialization and manners.  At no point did I talk about the dog knowing how to Sit, or Down, or do a Roll Over or Go to Sleep, or really doing anything at all because you asked it to.  The perfect dog for 99% of owners is just one that acts polite without being told.

Truth be told, I haven't actually put that much work in Krypto's obedience.  Partly because I've been a bit lazy/busy, but also because I know that I can do obedience anytime.  I can (and have) taken a 11 year old dog and teach it to Sit and Get Ready and Touch.  But good manners are harder to teach later on, and socialization can be much, much harder (or nearly impossible in some extreme cases).

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