The Fourth Element Of Dog Training… Maintenance

Imagine having the dog obedience training skills to be able to take your dog anywhere, and know that he’ll listen to you?

Every day, I take my Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, Forbes, around town and people are utterly amazed at how well he listens to me! If we go to a juice club for a smoothie… I place Forbes in the ‘down-stay’ position while I go in for a drink.

When I return, he lays next to one of the patio chairs outside the juice club, and watches the girls walk by, while I sip on a ‘Strawberry Blast.’ Occasionally, we’ll walk down to the post office to drop a letter in one of the mail box drops. Of course, Forbes walks alongside in the heel position, wearing nothing more than his training collar and his tab (a one foot leash).

But my experience with my dog is not unique. Many of the dog owners who will read this book and apply my techniques will enjoy the same benefits as I do.

If you’ve read this book, you’re familiar with the three phases your dog will go through, during the learning process:

1.) The learning phase: This is when your dog actually learns the behavior, and what it is you want from him.

2.) The reinforcement phase: This is when your dog learns that you expect him to do the desired behavior in a variety of different places.

3.) The proofing phase: This is when your dog learns that you expect him to respond to commands around any and all distractions. Well… there’s actually one more phase in the learning process that I haven’t really touched on, yet.

And that is: The Maintenance Phase !

Once you’ve got your dog trained (which is kind of a deceptive term, as there will always be more proofing, polishing, and additional behaviors you can teach your dog)… your job isn’t finished.

See, even though you’ve gone through the first three phases of training with your dog… you’ll find that something happens if you don’t MAINTAIN THE TRAINING… Your dog stops responding! It’s a lot like riding a bicycle. It’s true… once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. And once you’ve trained your dog to do a certain behavior, he’ll pretty much never forget it, either.

However, if you’ve ever tried to ride a bike after NOT riding a bike for more than 10 years… do you know what happens?  You’re a little bit wobbly. Your response times are out of whack. And you may even fall off the bike!!!  But… if you practice for a good 20 minutes, you’ll also find that your former skill level returns pretty darn quickly. It’s the same with your dog.

I often get clients who’ve gone through an dog importer, and purchased a German Shepherd Dog, with a Schutzhund III title (similar to a Ph.D. for dogs) And it’s obvious that the dog is trained. But, two things become apparent:

1.) The owners don’t know anything about handling or training.

2.) The dog hasn’t been made to work (do the exercises) in a long time.

So, they pull their dog out of the truck, and he’s a complete monster. He pulls on the leash. He jumps. He barks. He’s a total, untrained beast. Until I take the leash. Then, almost like magic… it all comes back to the dog.

How do you know if your dog needs maintenance training?

Well, fortunately your dog doesn’t just go from one day to the next, trained to untrained. Usually, you will start to see your dog’s training come undone in small steps. For example… if I place Forbes in a ‘down-stay’ command, and as people walk by and pet him, he may start to creep forward. Guess what? It’s likely that he’ll do this a few more times if it goes unchecked, and then he’ll actually start getting up when people pet him. And if that goes unchecked, he’ll start getting up just when people walk by him. Pretty soon, he’ll lay down when I tell him, but start getting up arbitrarily, when he wants to. If I continue to ignore this pattern, after awhile he won’t even go into the down-position when I tell him to.

If you give him an inch, he’ll take a mile.

So, the trick is to react to any small breach in the dog’s response to commands, immediately. And to practice with him under the most distracting circumstances, because anything else will seem like a piece of cake. In general, there’s no hard and fast rule regarding how often you need to get out and do maintenance training once you’ve reached a point where your dog is responding to commands 100% of the time. Just remember that there will always be cues.

For example, if Forbes is out in the field chasing butterflies, and I call him to come back to me… but he shows a lag in responding by 2 or 3 seconds… or I have to repeat my command… then it’s time to do some maintenance training.


Because I can guarantee you that the next time I call him, the lag in his response time will grow to 5 or 6 seconds. And if I still refuse to do anything, then the next time I call him, I’ll be lucky if he comes at all.

Fortunately, the longer you’ve had your dog, and the more time you’ve spent training your dog.. .the less maintenance you’ll need to do. If you’ve started training your dog as a puppy, then by the time your dog is 3 or 4 years old, you may only need to do maintenance training once every 3 or 4 months. But it really depends on your dog’s temperament, your training skill, and the type of behaviors you’re asking your dog to do.