How I Train Dogs: A Letter I Wrote Back in 1997 Reveals My Training Techniques To A Dog Trainer On The East Coast. Part I of III

I was rumaging through the outer regions of my hard drive last week when I came upon a letter I’d written to a dog trainer on the East Coast.

He’d asked me how I run my private lessons for my clients at South Bay K-9 Academy. (I’m no longer accepting new clients). So, I dictated a 20 minute spiel to my secretary, and then had her type up a transcript of my ramblings and send it off in the mail… but not before saving it to my hard drive. And now, two years later, I thought sharing this letter with you might help unlock some of the mysteries of dog training.

However, keep in mind that there is actually A LOT in this letter that I LEFT OUT … as I was corresponding with another professional dog trainer, and I only wanted to get across the basic points I incorporate in how I teach my lessons. Also, please note how much I stress placing the burden of the work on the owner, rather than taking the dog myself and training their pet. As I’ve said before… the trick is to teach the OWNER how to train their dog. In other words:

Give a Man A Fish And You
Feed Him For One Day.
But Teach Him How To Fish,
and You Feed Him For Life!

Without further ado, here is the first of a three part letter. I’ll publish the other two parts in upcoming issues of this e-zine.

Beginning of Letter: (Keep in Mind This Was Dictated, So It’s A Bit Choppy.)

Dear Mr. [Name Omitted]: I am going to speak very briefly because you inquired about how I actually do the training. My basic emphasis in putting together the kit [a marketing kit for dog trainers] was to teach people who are already professional dog trainers how to market their services and make money with their skill at training dogs. But even professionals who have already been training dogs for a number of years have inquiried as to how I do my training and what techniques I use.

So I am going to touch very quickly on the three different levels of obedience training and how I teach the techniques. But for now I am just going to run through each of the exercises in each of the levels and speak to you about how I do this training. The other thing that you may want to look into are a number of books that are readily available at your local library or book store.

I recommend a book called “Good Owners Great Dogs” by Brian Kilcommons. [You can order this book through our web site]. Another good dog training book is called “Dog Training by Bash”, the author’s name is Bashkim Dibra. You might look into the Monks of New Skete book. And there’s a problem behavior book that is also written by Bashkim Dibra… as well as a book called “Dog Problems” by Carol Lea Benjamin [also available through our web site] and a number of others… but most of these aren’t geared specifically toward the professional dog trainer.

If you have had experience training competition dogs (sport dogs) scaling down to work with pet owners is going to be very easy because it is just no where near as demanding. All they want is rliability. They don’t care if the dog does it with style or pizazz or how fast they do it per say, as long as it’s reliable and its functional. And if you look at my Temperament Evaluation and Consultation Card (It should be the yellow card that came with your kit) I am going to run through each of these very quickly.

The Down Stay:¬†¬†remember… when I reach these behaviors, I teach the owners how to teach the dog or how to work with the dog, but usually I’ll get the dog doing the behavior during the session, but then it’s up to the owner to take the dog around town and do the proofing exercises to make sure the dog will do the Down Stay or the Heel or Recall under various circumstances.

There is no way you can do that in the number of sessions that you can spend with the owner to keep it profitable, nor should you. The real benefit to the client is to get the client to do the bulk of the training and that way they are going to develop a more proper relationship between themselves and their pet and they are going to have the experience and the practice and be able to come back to you with questions they wouldn’t otherwise.

The Down Stay…I teach the dog the down first by teaching the dog to sit. Basically I tell the dog to sit, I pop straight up with the right hand and then guide the dog down with the left into the sit position and then you give the dog the release command. For the Down… I tell the dog Down, I pop in a downward and forward direction with my right hand on the leash and with my left hand, I put right behind the dog’s shoulder… it’s kind of a pressure spot, where if you push down and rock, the dog’s legs will collapse under him and he’ll go down.

And after guiding the dog through the behavior, you reach a point where the dog starts to understand and associate the command with what you want him to do and then you can stop with the physical part of actually touching the dog and just start popping the dog in the downward direction.

Walk with a Loose Leash: This is actually the first exercise I do. Basically, I teach the owners to walk with the dog on a loose leash by holding the very end of the leash and walking up and down a straight line using “right abouts” or walking straight backwards, so if the dog goes forward the owner goes backwards… and the dog hits the end of the leash with a sharp “snap” or “pop” and then the owner calls the dog’s name after the pop and encourages the dog to come in to them.

So, if the dog stays near the handler, then the dog gets nothing but praise. If he decides to run off to hit the end of the leash to bark at another dog or chase after a cat… he learns that he’s going one direction, and the owner is going the opposite direction… and the dog is the one on the leash so he gets the correction and then the chance to make the right decision again.

Heel is a process of modifying the Walk on a Loose Leash by teaching the owner to do a series of maneuvers to encourage the dog to walk in heel position on the left side and emphasize praising when the dog is in heel position doing a right about turn if the dog forges too far ahead; a left about turn if the dog is not paying attention and forging just a little bit. And pulling gently forward… if the dog is lagging… until the dog makes the effort to come up into heel position at which time we then substitute praise.

Get In the Car, Get Out of the Car: I teach by teaching the dog to climb up onto a raised platform such as a park bench or a box. I tell the dog “Climb” and then drag him up as fast as I can… pulling him up there. As soon as all 4 feet are off the ground (on the box) I give immediate praise and then I teach the release command as well by using a little bit of touch and motion. I tell the dog, “Take a break” and take a step to the left and pull the dog off the box top.

So the dog learns that safety and loving is only attained when he is on the box top after I have given him the command and if he jumps off too soon, it’s like jumping up onto a hot stove… I pull him back up immediately. Once the dog understands climb, he can associate that to the car (or anything else). Climb in the truck. Climb in the car. Climb on the scale. Climb on the grooming table. The applications are endless.

Wait at the Door. Basically I have the owner teach the dog to wait at the door the same way they do by teaching the dog not to run in the street… which we’ll get to in just a minute. But a very fast way to show them how to teach the dog to wait at the door is to have them imagine that they are holding the dog on the leash with their left hand– standing inside the house– and open the door with the right hand… As soon as the dog decides to bolt out the door, immediately slam the door closed. It may clip the dog in the head a couple times but he’ll get the picture real quick.

And then open slowly and close, open a little bit more and then close again, and then open wide and close until the dog realizes that he has to wait because the door will come slamming closed very fast if he decides to bolt through.. And we have the leash on the dog just in case our timing isn’t good enough and the dog does get through… we can direct him back in.

Teaching the dog to not run in the street or basic property perimeter training can be applied to teaching the dog to stay off the carpet in the house or only go on the tile and linoleum, or even stay out of certain bedrooms. This is a very good selling point.

What I do is I teach them how to do it on the curb, so they’re teaching the dog not to run in the street. What I do is, I step in the street… then tempt the dog to go into the street. But I want to be fair, so I don’t use the dog’s name. I just say, “do you want to come in the street?” If the dog comes in the street, I immediately correct him back up onto the sidewalk. The correction must stop as soon as all 4 legs are up on the sidewalk. Then I tempt the dog again. If the dog steps in the street, I repeat step 1. If he decides not to go in the street, I’ll go back and praise. Then what I’ll do is I’ll pull a little bit… just gently pull, so that the dog has to actively resist. If he makes the right decision, he get’s praised. If he makes the wrong decision, he gets the correction.

The second step is to now work the dog in various different streets. What happens is that, when the dog learns… it’s very situational. So I need to practice on 3 or 4 different streets and then have the owner go home and practice on 5 or 6 or 7 different streets. When we are ready to tell the dog to cross the street, I start incorporating the release command. What I use is “Take a Break.” I tell the dog. “Take a break” in the same way we did when we taught the dog that it was okay to jump off the box or the park bench (the way we did it with the climb.) So this is the street training.

The third step in the street training is of course the proofing which goes as well as with the Down Stay and the Sit Stay. Proofing the dog…once the dog understands the exercise… you can take a ball, throw the ball in the street, if the dog chases the ball you correct him back up. You continue doing this until the dog learns that, just because the ball goes in the street DOES NOT MEAN that he is allowed to run into the street AFTER the ball!

The second proofing exercise I do is with a little bit food. I take some kibble or some meat, and toss it into the street. If the dog goes after the meat into the street, I again correct him back up onto the sidewalk. Then, the third step is take another dog, play with the dog in the street.

If the first dog, the one that you are training, decides to go in the street, then once again he should learn that he gets a correction AND THEN the chance to make the right decision. When he makes the right decision… we reinforce with praise.

Elimination of common behavior problems are solved by discussing the issue the the client, and demonstrating through a variety of examples how to administer a correction, or how to erase a negative associationg… depending on what we’re doing.