Life experience · Ms. Jordan Underfoot · The Reverend John Henry

On Dog Training Mistakes

When you become a dog owner, a whole world of previously unimagined delights are opened up to you.

The thrill, for instance, of finally finding a trash container for the full bag of poop you’ve been carrying around in 100-degree heat. There should be a word for that simple but profound emotion.

It had been a plan, somewhere in my mind, to buy one of those Bluetooth ear pieces for when I went slightly potty and started talking to myself in the street. The ear pieces would make it look like I had someone to actually talk to.

Now, I can bin that idea; I can talk to my dog instead. He’s a very good listener as I take him through hot topics like the weather, cars I like the look of, what people are throwing into the dumpster today…

And hardly anyone crosses the street to avoid us, as long as I remember to say “Heel!” or “Good boy!” occasionally.

His other duties he performs equally well, of course. Bed warmer, kitchen floor sweeper, barker at anyone who passes by the front door, suspicious-puddle sniffer. He’s an A-grade worker in each of these functions.

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But, with each step I take, I’m aware that I’m making mistakes.

Some are subjective – I have friends who pull very odd faces when they learn that, not only are the dogs allowed on the furniture, but one or both of them sleeps on our bed too. We are not training either of them to walk to heel – I like to see them exploring their environment as we take our daily walks. OK, not every blade of grass, not every leaf, not every damp stain on the path…but mostly I like them exploring.

Having dogs has given me insights into things I would never otherwise have known. Such as how many chicken bones people seem to casually dump in long grass, hedges, and flower beds. And my two find each and every one. What’s with you people?

Anyway.

In our first official meeting with a dog trainer, she was clear that we were making some pretty fundamental errors: when Jordan goes all Hannibal Lecter, we are making a mistake when we pick her up, we are making a mistake as we drag her away from the scene of her potential crime. We’re supposed to re-program her to want to walk where we walk. Which consists mainly of tricking her into believing that walking with us equals getting tasty treats every few blocks.

And it works.

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I’m also aware of some little but possibly significant errors I make every day. I use their names as a command, which I know I definitely shouldn’t do. If they’re doing something I don’t want them to do, I shout “Jordan!” (or “John Henry!”…but mostly “Jordan!”) and expect them to know what I’m talking about. Their names are not commands. So, instead of shouting “Jordan!” I should shout: “Jordan, stop humping John Henry’s face!” – just to take a random example.

Good training is all about communication, people.

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