From Brat to Fab: The Power of Training

I still remember calling my dog trainer (Cat), in desperation asking for her help. She came to our home and we had a 2 hour session where we went through our list of problems with Bowie – it was quite a long list. She assessed what we did right or wrong, and how we could improve. It was good to have Cat see Bowie in his environment. Though for some reason when Cat was visiting, Bowie decided to behave like an angel and hide his true colours – what a cheeky little devil!!

We felt more confident after the session and relieved that our problems were not unusual. In her ten years and more experience working with many dogs, she assured us that Bowie just displayed a classic puppy behaviour. Looking back now, that’s nothing compared with when he hit the teen stage!

Bowie loved Cat so much, he wanted to go home with Cat

When his teen stage hit (around 9 months old), Bowie was a complete sh*t! All the 6 months of training just went out of the window. From being the star of the class to be just a complete nightmare. Bowie could be progressing so well then went two step backwards. He could do the commands so well then suddenly couldn’t. His attention could be so impeccable then poof!! gone – didn’t even respond to high value treats and completely ignored us. Not to mention the persistent and dangerous pulling. I remember bursting into tears out of frustration and feeling like a failure in front of the trainers.

We had to adjust our training method. We also had to take extra precautions especially when he was left by himself – Read my ‘Puppy Proof DIY’ post – or when we took him for a walk – Read ‘When you have a pulling dog…’ post. Every dog is different, but I was told that there would be some (bad) behaviour relapses until they’re matured – when will Labradors settle down? – not until they’re 5 or 10 some people say! I still have a long way to go…

I must admit having a dog is not all sunshine and roses. We had a few bumps and humps along the way especially with Bowie’s injuries. But we persevered with love, patience, humour and glass(es) of wine.

Bowie 9 weeks old (left) and 7 months old (right) – Pick of the Pack

Bowie is almost three now and he’s calmed down a lot. He’s far away from perfect, but I think the training has paid off big time. We just have to keep reinforcing and make sure that he doesn’t get away doing things he shouldn’t. Our motto – Nothing comes free – he needs to do at least sit for anything… hahaha…

I’m a great believer in dog training and it’s definitely helped us and Bowie to co-exist happily and bond. I can’t imagine what he’d be like if we didn’t invest time and money for his training. Bowie gets joy out of it as well. His face always lights up whenever we praise him for doing well.

His training didn’t stop when the class finished. We’ve been reinforcing the obedience training in his day-to-day life. For examples – He will drop and wait patiently until we finish our meal – He will not touch his meal until we say the word ‘free’ – He will sit before we open the door or get into the car – And he will stop, sit and wait before crossing the road.

There were times when we couldn’t leave him by himself even to go to the toilet, as he would immediately grab something from the table or kitchen bench – Read Bowie’s sultanas story. We implemented the ‘drop’ and ‘free’ command which means he would stay in the same position until we released him with the word ‘free’. We gradually added distance, duration and separation, and treated him lavishly when he did well. Now we can go have a shower, a bath or a nap and he will be waiting patiently for us, even without any command.

We also mix the obedience training with his play sessions and mental stimulation exercises. It makes the play so much fun and rewarding for him.

There are so many different dog training methods around. I think the most important thing is consistency and a right balance of positive reinforcement and discipline. I find that you constantly have to adjust your training as your dog grows. Don’t be afraid to ask professional help along the way and have fun!