Believe it or not, there is still controversy surrounding the pack structure of dogs and whether or not it differs from wolves. Does a group of dogs always have to establish a pack? Does your dog become part of a “pack” every time it visits the dog park and associates with a new group of dogs? Is becoming your dog’s Pack Leader necessary to making sure the family dog is well-behaved and happy?
How does this affect your search for the right dog trainer in Vancouver?
It means that you should keep an open mind. A successful dog training system can develop even from a misplaced theory. It’s not always necessary to know WHY something works, as long as it does work! Truthfully, most dog trainers don’t know why dogs do what they do. Scientific research can give us some clues. Research can still be biased, of course, but without it we often form opinions that have no basis in reality. Especially since humans are so prone to anthropomorphism and so often misconstrue each other’s signals, never mind the signals other species give off.
Cesar Millan (“The Dog Whisperer”) has based his entire dog training system on the theory that dog packs work the same way as wolf packs and you must be your dog’s Pack Leader, but not everyone agrees with this. The book “In Defence of Dogs” has some very interesting research on this. Nevertheless, Cesar has been very successful training and rehabilitating dogs with all kinds of problems, from debilitating fear to serious aggression. In some circles his methods have made him very unpopular, but some of his methods make sense. Read this article and you’ll see what I mean.
Mastering “The Walk”
I personally believe Cesar Millan is right about one thing at least… that mastering “the walk” with your dog can solve a lot of behavioural issues. When our kids play hard, they sleep well. The same applies to dogs! A tired dog will sleep most of the day and get into much less trouble than a restless, bored dog with too much excess, pent-up energy. Exercise is the great leveler, making any dog easier to manage and easier to train… and creating a much more content and happy pooch!
But I have a big backyard…
It’s not enough to just give your dog a big backyard. There’s only so much self-exercise, running figure eights in the backyard, that a dog will do… it’s boring going over and over the same territory every day. Eventually your dog will give up and start suffering from boredom and lack of exercise, despite your big backyard! Pretty soon he’ll be tearing up your plants, chewing the deck and terrorizing any neighbourhood dogs that walk past his fence.
Your dog needs at least one (two is better) brisk walks every day! Lucy only weighs 25 pounds, but she can walk forever. We walk for an hour every morning (sometimes 1.5 to 2 hours) and at least half an hour every evening… rain or shine! She weighed 22 pounds when I got her, so she’s gained three pounds, but she actually looks slimmer now due to a 100% raw food diet and lots of exercise every single day. [Yep, Lucy, that’s all muscle, girly!]
But let me tell you that mastering the walk isn’t always easy! Only the most lethargic, laid-back, dead-beat dog will trot along beside you and never drag you after squirrels, interesting smells, goose poop (Vancouverites, you know what I mean!), birds and other dogs. There are different ways to train a dog to heel or loose-leash walk: yank-and-crank, food reward, stopping or turning every time they pull, clicker, e-collar, etc. These methods all work. But, for me, the fastest, easiest way was the e-collar. However, I warn you: DO NOT buy an e-collar and try to figure this out for yourself. That is a disaster waiting to happen and a great way to ruin your relationship with your dog. Hire a dog trainer who specializes in e-collar training and you will have a much better experience and so will your dog!
What about treadmills?
Think of a treadmill for your dog the same ways as you would think of a treadmill for yourself. Convenient, will burn off energy, but nowhere near as much fun as going on a walk or a hike. Dogs learn about their environment first through scent. Going for a walk provides them with lots of wonderful smells to examine and file away in case they need them. They can find their way home using the smells in their neighbourhood! Yes, a treadmill can serve a purpose if the weather is terrible, you really don’t have time or the physical stamina to take the dog for a long walk, or you have a super-high-energy dog that you just can’t seem to wear out. These latter types of dogs can accompany you on your skateboard, roller blades, bicycle, or electric mobility scooter. Try that option before you resort to a treadmill. You want to wear your dog out physically and mentally and a walk does that far better than the treadmill. The treadmill, once mastered, offers little mental stimulation. A walk is never boring for a dog because the sights and smells always change, even if you walk the same route every day!
Can a dog get too much exercise?
While it’s highly unlikely that your dog will poop out before you do, over the centuries, human beings have bred all kinds of oddities into dogs, some of which can affect a breed’s ability to exercise, such as breathing issues, heat susceptibility, body shape, etc. Old dogs will likely have less energy than young dogs, but note that serious problems can occur when very young dogs are over-exercised. So, do your due-diligence and find out what amount of exercise is right for the size and age of your dog… as well as its breed’s physical capabilities.