What Can a Dog Do?

Lulou, ready to learn

What Can A Dog Do?

I’m talking in terms of what can you train your dog to do.  It comes down to what your dog is physically and mentally capable of, what you are capable of training, and what is appropriate to train considering the health and safety of the dog.  We often assume that any dog should be a physical athlete, able to run, jump, and swim without effort, and be able to hear and see perfectly.  The reality is far from that.

Many dog breeds are selected for extremes in physical form (very short legs, wrinkly skin, etc) that can hinder their physical performance.  And, despite reputable breeders selecting for physical fitness, many puppies with physical defects are produced and themselves produce more offspring.  Just like people, all dogs are not capable of being Olympic level athletes.   When my young dog recently developed a medical disorder, he was limited in what he could do.

What Should You Do?

Since we our responsible for our dog’s health and safety,  we must consider their welfare when we decide what we are going to train.  It is possible to train activities that are harmful to a dog’s physical or mental health.  My young dog, Deagan, needs to stay away from water, so wading and swimming are out of bounds, and it is a bit difficult to keep him hydrated, so we have to avoid overheating as well.  It’s not the end of the world, there are still plenty of activities he can enjoy with some precautions.

Consider your dog’s physical capabilities when you start to train a new behavior.  If your dog is having trouble responding to your cues, also consider that there may be a physical problem or limitation that is making it hard for him to do what you ask.  Especially in the case of vision and hearing loss, dogs can compensate  so that you may not be aware that they can’t hear or see your cues.

Arrow jumps the triple
Arrow jumps the triple

What Can You Do?

Dogs are capable of learning to do many complex tasks on cue, such as searching for victims of an avalanche, retrieving a gamebird, or running an agility course, or performing in a TV commercial. All these tasks require the trainer to be skilled in applying principles of learning and being able to invest the time necessary to  get the job done.  For simpler tasks, like walking politely on a leash, or coming when called, the trainer skills are simpler, but the investment of time is still there.

If you need help with the skills, consider attending ClickerExpo, or getting help from a professional trainer.  I really enjoy helping people realize that training is quality time with their dog – not just a means to an end, but an enjoyable  way to interact  with their pet that benefits both of you.

The major stumbling block I see in clients is the inability to invest the time necessary for training on a regular basis.  You don’t have to put in a huge amount of time to achieve basic training tasks, but you do have to invest in regular sessions focused on your goals if you want to make progress.  When you realize how much fun positive training can be, and how much your dog enjoys it, you will want to make time in your day for regular training sessions.

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