Trained to Impress

There are so many reasons to train your dog.  Whether you just want a friendly and relatively obedient house-pet, or to be able to compete in dog sports, all signs point to training.  A well-socialized, obedient dog is more pleasant to live with.  You can bring that dog to so many more places and activities than you can bring the hell-hound who drags you down the street every time you try to take him for a walk.

And here’s another reason.  Your dog is a representative of his species, and his breed.  It isn’t your imagination – your dog is being judged.  How many people have let a single bad experience with a dog of a recognizable breed (or type) influence their forever opinion of that breed?  It’s easy enough to do.

I know that all German Shepherd dogs aren't angry-clawing their way out of their yards. But I wouldn't want to meet this one on the street.

Public opinion can be difficult to deal with.  I know quite a few people with Rottweilers who find that people walking towards them on the street will cross the street to avoid them.  These dogs that I know, in particular, are big softies.  Given the opportunity, any one of them would come up to you and present his or her bum for a nice scratch session.  These owners ‘get’ it.  They are ambassadors to a breed that is labeled ‘tough’, and the amount of work they put into the training of their dogs shows it.

In the past few visits I have made to a dog park near my home, I have had a nearly identical conversation with fellow dog owners, and it is really disturbing.

“There’s just something about boxers, you know?  I just don’t trust them.  They seem to be playing nice, and then all of a sudden they’re in attack mode.”

“Yeah, I try to keep my dog from playing with them when we’re here and they show up.”

"Who, me?"

Sorry, are you talking about boxers?  Boxers, those goofy, playful dogs – the ones who like to wrestle and run around and play?  Boxers like the one on my street, Abby, Gwynn’s favourite wrestling buddy.  Abby, who sits on her front lawn, leash-free, while her owner brings the recycling bins to the kerb, and waits for permission to come across the street to visit us on our walk?

Most of the boxers I’ve met at this park (and any other) play so nicely with other dogs.  They love to wrestle, making them a perfect playmate for Gwynn.  If their owners call, they come at least as often as Gwynn does when he is called.  If they are playing too rough, their owners re-direct them.  Like any dog owner should do if at a dog park.  Gwynn sometimes needs intervention in play as well.

Most, but not Mocha.  Mocha the 1ish year old Boxer doesn’t get it.  It’s like she doesn’t speak ‘dog’ – she doesn’t pay attention to the ‘go away’ and ‘back off’ signals that dogs give off.  She wrestles too hard, she pushes buttons, and she instigates scuffles.  Her owner claims she is perfectly trained, but she has zero recall/obedience at the dog park.  When she gets too excited, too pushy, too MUCH, he does nothing.  No redirecting, no break time, no ‘let’s go for an on-leash walk for 10 minutes and come back and try again’.  She focuses a lot on smaller or weaker dogs, and harasses them to no end.  She runs wild, and yes, the dog park isn’t as fun while she’s there.  I don’t run into her often, and am usually in the lucky position of already heading out when she’s coming in.

Her impact is being felt.  The people at the dog park aren’t talking about their wariness towards Mocha the poorly trained and poorly socialized Boxer, owned by that jerk who doesn’t follow dog-park-etiquette.  They’re talking about how they don’t trust Boxers.  No differentiation between the Mochas and the Abby’s of the world.

So – train your dog.  Train him to make a good impression.  You want people to talk about how much they love Australian Shepherds after having met your Aussie – not about how they hate those jumpy, barky, over-energetic terrors.  Pure-bred or mixed breed, your dog gives people an impression of all dogs.  And don’t forget to pick up after that obedient dog, because otherwise, you’re giving all us dog owners a bad name too.

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  1. I said it on another of your posts, and i will say it again. People need dog training classes. One whole lesson would be “Park Etiquette”
    This Mocha sounds like a terror, and I wish I could be there at the park with you when she’s there, so I could back you up and help keep an eye out 😦
    You know, I sometimes worry about you going to parks on your own… I mean, you don’t have anyone to rant to/with or be ranted at during the walks, so I worry about your against-stupid-dog-owners-aggression… The kind that seethes inside until you are the one constantly giving the stink eye to those who giggle over overly rough play, those who chortle when their dog bullies other dogs, plotting imaginary murder and dog-relocation plans, and occasionally plans to secretly enrol these people into a required dog obedience class.
    If you don’t think these thoughts, then apparently I’m strange 😉
    Stay strong, and don’t let Gwynn get leery of Boxers 😀

    • Luckily, whatever vibe Gwynn gives out to Mocha, it’s enough of an “I’m bigger, older and stronger than you” vibe that she pretty much completely ignores him.
      To be honest, I think it might be good for me to actually say something to some people. Maybe if the moron who brings a toy with their toy-guarding dog to the park heard that it’s a stupid idea, they might think twice next time. Maybe. You never know.
      It’s unlikely that Gwynn will get leery of them, he loves wrestling too much 🙂

  2. I think dog-training classes should be part of every school curriculum. Seriously.

    • Even just how to behave around dogs – and maybe give them the opportunity to interact with a few well-mannered dogs like the ones that go visiting at hospitals and nursing homes. A lot of kids who don’t have pets never interact with dogs, and they become very nervous.

  3. We tried dog training classes for our Mal Shi but the trainer was so rough – she injured a pup during our class causing him to bleed and my youngest daughter cried – it was the worst experience ever. I tried training Luna on my own, but the only commands she has really secured is “time to go bye bye” which means get in your crate because mom is leaving now, “car ride” (self explanatory), “time for night night” which she promptly gets in my bed for the night and “leave it” which is handy when dropping chocolate on the floor – other than that – she leaves the yard, comes when she feels like it and bolts for the door the minutes someone comes to visit. Unfortunately, being only 7 lbs, I haven’t enforced a lot of rules. She is almost 2 – is it too late to start over??

    • I had to look up your dog breed – cutest thing ever 🙂 I think Gwynn’s head weighs the same as she does!
      That trainer sounds terrible! There are definitely ‘good’ trainers and ‘bad’ trainers out there. If you are interested in trying classes again, look for classes where they practice positive reinforcement or clicker training. You might get frustrated at times with training in general (dogs are stubborn), but you should never find yourself in that kind of a situation with the trainer.
      I’d say she’s definitely still trainable – my dog is 2 years old, and i’m still going to classes and things, and trying to teach him new tricks, and a lot of people who get dogs from the humane society have to teach them everything from scratch, and those dogs aren’t necessarily at all young. I don’t know if you have to worry about her giving too bad an impression with her shenanigans, though, being so tiny. You might enjoy having her more trained – less concern about her running out of the house, less concern about her getting loose, etc – but only the most terrified of dogs person is going to freak out at her jumping up at their leg.

      • Thanks for the reply! I do worry about her safety more than anything else. She is too curious and friendly for her own good sometimes. We had a 73 lb Golden Retriever for 13 years before her and she was well trained. It seemed more of a priority since she was bigger. I guess there really should be no difference when they are little! Looks like we will have a good summer project…

        • It’s tough to see the little dogs and big dogs as equally… doggish, i suppose. Or equally in need of obedience training. A major part of it is that your seven lb bundle of adorable putting his front paws on my leg would probably put him at adorable-knee-height… your retriever would have been cleaning my face, and I’m not at all a fan of that particular big-dog-ability.
          If you’re worried about safety, things like ‘don’t go through the door until you have permission’, and ‘come’ are definitely useful to have. There are some great web resources for whatever training you do decide to use, though, so hopefully you guys have fun with it this summer!

  4. Which is why we avoid the dog park. Because the owners don’t know when it is appropriate to intervene and when it is not.

    Usually I try and let the dogs sort it out themselves, but if people don’t understand how dogs ‘work’ then I will intervene and redirect my dog. If that doesn’t work, we go somewhere else.

    I agree with Doodle, people need dog training classes, not just to learn how to help their dog get along better in the human world, but how humans should act in a dog world.

  5. Lance

     /  March 21, 2012

    My wife has worked at at animal clinics for 13 years. She’s currently at a very good one, where she’s been the lead receptionist for 4 and half years. When I met her I thought all pit bulls, german sheperds, chows, and doverman picnchers were bad. I’ve learned that those breeds are not only excellent dogs but also, when trained properly and treated with love, are terrific with children.

    we have a six year old gold retriever that we adopted 3 years ago. He’s amazing. we call him our son. still, even at six, he needs training and attention.

    this a really good post for first time pet owners and people who just don’t get while their dog acts a fool and otehr’s do not.

    • We have a seven month shepherd Maxx and I am going to have my husband read your post. He is training him, and had done well with our other dogs, but Maxx is a but more challenging. He won’t give in to taking him or trying another method. Don’t get me wrong he has come a long way and he is a great dog. We have grandkids and we trust him. I think my human needs training. Thanks again love your posts.

      • For me, doing training classes worked best. I’d never owned a dog before, so even just having that one hour a week of guaranteed dog-socializing and training practice was (and is) great. Regardless of whether you’re doing classes, or training yourself, practice is definitely necessary. I figure that as long as the result is the kind of dog that you can trust around your grandchildren, and out in public, that’s a win. Hope your puppy keeps up being a great representative of his breed 🙂

    • It’s great to hear you’ve been converted 🙂 I’ve met plenty of great dogs that fall into a lot of peoples’ “Scary dog” category, as well as a few of the more typically family-dog type dogs that are a complete nightmare. It’s definitely a case of not judging a book by its cover, because any dog could be great, or could be a terror.
      Training a dog is never entirely finished – it’s definitely a lifelong process.
      thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  6. Good Grief…… If my wife were to get a hold of this post, and were to replace the word “Boxer”, with “Idiot”, she would have a manual on why I need to have obedience training……. yikes! 🙂

    • I’ll have to sent her the “Idiot’s guide to clicker-training your Idiot”, and a big bag of skittles for rewarding good behaviour 😀

  7. This has nothing to do with a dog park, but with stereotyping a breed. The first day of puppy class this woman I was sitting next to announced that she does not like Chessies because she has met some not so nice ones. Wha? Little Freighter and little Sunny were being model students. The woman was there with her daughter (probably my age or older) who was trying to train her first dog, a golden retriever, 11 weeks old. I was sooo tempted to tell her about the not so nice Goldens I have met along the way, but I kept my mouth shut. LOL

    • Wow, I’m surprised that she felt the need to bring it up to you… that’s… weird and really impolite. It’s like going up to a person with young kids and, no introductions, saying, “I don’t like children.”
      I’m sure, even without bringing up your negative experiences with Goldens, this woman will have plenty of opportunity to see what a great, and well-trained dog a Chessie can be – I can’t imagine Freighter turning out any other way. It is ridiculous, the broad assumptions people will make with just one or two interactions.

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