Thursday, April 16, 2009

I'm a work-at-home mom. I started freelancing as a business writer after my marketing job was eliminated in 1999 and have enjoyed the freedom and flexibility it's afforded me. I've had some really good years but, lately, not so much. The economy wiped out my corporate clients, so I'm having to rebuild the business from scratch. Max is my only child.

Since my office has been at home the entire time I've known him, I've had lots of time available to work with shaping Max's behavior. His intelligence was evident early on, so I just learned to play to that strength. I also discovered his passions! We didn't use treats as a training tool, just positive reinforcement. For instance, Max loves freedom. He likes the ability to roam and sniff and run and explore at will. Since I thought it was cool to have a dog who could walk off leash, I started to gradually give him what he wanted. I set the boundaries, rewarded him with more freedom when he did well, and soon enough he was good to go. Now, he's the envy of all his little buddies because he can travel unencumbered. (unless of course we're asked to leash up by the doggie police)

If you had known Max early on, you would realize what a huge transformation this is. When I first took him in, about 8 1/2 years ago, he was wild as a buck. He had been on the streets as a stray for some time and resisted every effort to domesticate him. An open door was an invitation to bolt. He'd take off, roam the streets who knows where and show up at the door days later with that "sorry, please take me back" look. There were many times I'd throw up my hands in frustration, thinking this was way beyond my pay grade. But things finally started to turn around once I figured out his needs and how to meet them.

I'm asked all the time how I trained such a well-behaved dog. Since Max is my first pet as an adult, I had a steep learning curve. I did a lot of research to come up with solutions. Here's what I know for sure.

  • Dogs need daily exercise. High energy dogs need extreme exertion. It opens the door to discipline. Look for clues from them about the activity they're designed for. Max showed up with a tennis ball in his mouth. He instinctively knew how to drain his energy.
  • Find what motivates them, and use it judiciously.
  • Set clear and consistent boundaries, and expect them to follow.
  • Give them a job. Every dog needs a purpose.

Above all, give them oodles and oodles of love!

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