Oct 1, 2017
Brace Yourself for Training
So here we are again, you and me. Me- ready to divulge the innermost and most intimate details of my relationship with Max for your amusement, and You- ready to glance through this blog for any remotely funny snippets to ease the day-to-day brutal grind of your recurring Kafkaesque torment.
We’re glad you’re here.
ANYWAY…….. A long time ago I promised you that I would tell you about the time Max broke my wife’s ankle. A lot of you have been begging me to tell it. It’s your lucky day because Max broke her ankle again today and now I have twice as much to write about.
I’m ready to start whenever you are.
Like any puppy, Max liked to jump up on things. Couches, rocks, decks, cars, white pants, the elderly, bigger and more vicious dogs, but especially us. And when a puppy is small, it’s really funny and fun when he jumps up on you.
Max came to us at 8 weeks and weighed 15lbs. Jumping up was cute! In another 8 weeks he was 40lbs. It wasn’t as cute because it was like 8 large sacks of flour hitting your legs, but it was funny because he was so gangly and pudgy and spastic. And it seemed like he really enjoyed it.
After another 4 months he was 80lbs and his running and jumping up on you like a linebacker was absolutely NOT cute or funny. We actually dreaded it. But you could brace yourself for it. And that’s what we did. We got good at bracing. We practiced. Other people didn’t practice bracing and were not so enthralled with our not-so-little pup. Of course those people were monsters. Non-bracing, puppy-hating monsters. All of them.
One fine day, Liana (The Wife, in Maine parlance) came home after a long day at being yelled at and needed some Unconditional Dog Love. Lucky for her I was on the lawn with an unleashed, 80lb Fat Max (his Christian Name) who was looking to play some Human Bowling.
When Liana got out of her car, Max’s ears went up. His jaw dropped. And he bolted straight at her from about 50ft.
Liana crouched down with open arms and a big smile on her face waiting for him to embrace her in warm doggy love. Instead, Max ran straight into her and knocked her butt over tea kettle. She was lying on the dirt driveway and Max was licking her face enthusiastically. I went back inside and put the baseball game on.
After a couple innings, I realized that Max and The Wife hadn’t come inside. So during a break in that scalding baseball action, I glanced out the window and saw her still lying in the driveway with Max curled around her legs. I hit record on the DVR and went outside.
As I approached them The Wife sat up, held her ankle and grimaced in pain. The conversation went like this:
“I think Max broke my ankle.”
“Did you brace yourself?”
“No. I’m serious. My ankle’s broken.”
“Well, can I get you a cocktail?”
“Maybe. Help me get inside”
After watching the rest of the Sox game, I realized Liana’s cries were from real pain and not a desperate play to get attention from me. And that’s what ultimately convinced me to take her to the hospital. So we all got into the car and went to an emergency room that charged more to put a cast on a fractured ankle than NASA paid for all the Apollo Missions and Voyager Spacecraft combined.
It was time to bring the hammer down on Max and actually train him.
Of course the entire time Max and I have shared our lives together has been a battle. He makes me earn the alpha position for every little thing every day. Maybe it’s because we neutered him. Maybe he’s just naturally headstrong. Regardless, our relationship is more like an internal Nazi power struggle than I’m willing to admit- full of intrigue, double-crossing and vicious backstabbing.
So The Wife and I grabbed an armload full of money and went out to buy less than an armload full of training treats and training “things.” It was a huge waste of money when you consider Max wouldn’t obey you unless you had a treat at the ready. The Wife and I just spent all our time yelling at him and charging through pucker brush after him when he disobeyed, which was all the time. Technically, The Wife limped through the pucker brush. I did most of the charging.
A lot of you have come into the shop and remarked how well the dogs behave when surrounded by all those goodies and with the door wide open. The Wife and I can walk them across the street on hand signals. How did a big dummy like me and my crippled wife train all those well-behaved dogs?
I learned a lot about training dogs from Max. First and foremost is Puppy Training Axiom #1: Rage Deadens Pain. Never charge through pucker brush in shorts and flip flops. No matter how much you want to strangle your disobedient puppy. The blood loss is incredible and the wounds are slow to heal. And everyone thinks you’re horrible for wanting to strangle your cute puppy.
Which leads me into Puppy Training Joke #1. It can be summed up by this pithy little drollery- Q: Why are puppies so cute? A: So you don’t strangle them. Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it?
There is no Puppy Training Joke #2. I promise.
ANYWAY– The best dog training advice I can give anyone is Puppy Training Axiom #2: Don’t train your dog. Learn your dog.
That may sound trite or glib. But think about it. Dogs have as many different character variations as people. They have different desires, motivations, experiences, chemistry, and characters. Learn what motivates your dog, and make that motivation the foundation of trust and fun and training. I can’t stress this enough.
Auggie didn’t need to be yelled at nearly as much as Max for training. Auggie really wanted to do whatever we asked him to do (despite his blog voice). Being harsh with Auggie would have the exact opposite effect as it had on the knowingly-disobedient, calculating Max. A dog owner has to understand those differences if they want to raise a well-adjusted dog. Any training program that ignores this is doomed.
Other Important Axioms In No Particular Order Because It’s Late And I’ve Got To Get Up Early Tomorrow But I Think You’re Fairly Bright And Can Get The Gist Of What I’m Trying To Get Across To You But Don’t Call Me Up Late At Night Or Ambush Me At A Restaurant Because You’re Confused, Simple, Demanding, Or You Think I’m Wrong As Wrong Spelled Rong.
Axiom #3: Make training FUN. ALWAYS.
Axiom #4: Always train dogs after a little/lot of exercise (the dog, not you). It lowers their excitability and lets them focus more easily.
Axiom #5: Don’t press your puppy. Short little training sessions work best. Long Training Death Marches never work. And don’t get frustrated! It’s a long process.
Axiom #6: Be consistent. Make sure all your puppy’s family and friends understand the verbal and visual signals with which you are training your dog with. Grammar mistake intended.
Axiom #7: You will train your dog, or your dog will train you. Small, cute, dog owners beware.
Axiom #8: There is no cookie cutter, silver bullet method to dog training. Alpha dogs need different training than Omegas. Retrievers need different training than Terriers. Every shelter dog has had a different experience. Learn your dog.
Great. Now the sun is up and the boys want breakfast. Thanks a lot.
Take care everyone!
Don – (Not a Dog)