Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

First, I must make a confession. My wife is our chief dog trainer. My goal is to help her and not screw things up too much when I am with the dog. This is all very strange, because we both observe that the dog seems to have more affinity to me than her.

Our ACD is about 26 months old. He has taught me the following:

1. All dogs must learn the basics. These are sit, stay, down, come, heel, and no. They must, of course, be house-trained. Some training is needed for fun or to further their skills such as bird hunting for retrievers. A formal game of fetch comes to mind. Our ACD is not a natural at fetch, but he did learn it and does a good job. He can sit and wait while we throw. He retrieves the ball, returns it and drops it in our hand. Very good.

2. If you are training your dog and making no progress, do not assess what the dog is doing wrong. First look at what you, the trainer might be doing that is sub-optimum or, worse, simply wrong.

3. Be consistent and make your dog practice his training to make your lives (his and yours) easier. For example, our dog is always commanded to wait before entering the house and before jumping into my truck. We tell him to move off the trail when hiking and to sit and stay when we are about to encounter other hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. This usually works, despite never formally training him to move off the trail. The point here is to command the dog for behavior that is logical and prudent in the situation. He will begin to associate the needed behavior with your command.

4. Reward your dog a lot when he is learning a new trick. Our dog is big on food. Indeed, we already have to watch his weight. So, we do not always treat with food, and when he does get treats they are small and low calorie. Obviously, we want and seem to be getting a dog that likes praise and finds that to be adequately rewarding for doing the right thing as time progresses.

5. Never punish your dog after he obeys the “come here” command. Even if you use the command in a stern, punitive voice, always praise your dog for coming to you.

6. ACD’s really do try to herd their owners by biting our heels. This is how they herd cattle. These natural behaviors are hard to break, but a little firmness here that works is better than a problem that is punished less firmly over many months. Any dog with biting, barking, or other problems that tend to hurt others and get the owner sued must be dealt with in a planned and firm manner by the owner.

7. If you are desperately struggling with barking, biting, herding (yes, our neighbors have cows), you might consider a shock collar. We did. When our dog goes into the neighbors cow pasture, he gets one call. If his excitement at herding overwhelms his obedience training, he gets a shock and then another call. And he comes and is rewarded for doing so. This punishes the bad behavior, herding the cattle of neighbors, while rewarding good behavior, coming to us. We do not have to do this much anymore. He is a smart dog, and when I used to get him from the field, I always told him not to visit the neighbor. Now when he goes in that direction, I say the same thing and the dog turns to look at me and pauses. It all works together.

8. Most of us want a dog that has basic obedience skills. Use as much positive reinforcement as possible, and as little punishment as necessary. Punishment has negative consequences, such as breaking the spirit of the animal, and can contribute to other manifestations of bad behavior. Today our dog disobeyed me. Instead of dragging him to his kennel, as I did  before when he disobeyed, I simply told him to enter the kennel. He did. He knew he had been bad. But because he entered under his own will, I released him in only a few minutes. He got the message.

9. A good dog is a great companion. He is a dog that generally obeys, but has moments of fun and exuberance that define his unique character. This is his spirit and personality, and is absolutely fine for pet dogs, even if a little annoying at times. This combination of traits defines our dog. He is what people call a good dog, and that is right.



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