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By Wendy Migdal
One of the common difficulties with learning a new language is finding the opportunity to speak it on a regular basis. Total immersion is even better for forcing the brain to shift over to a new kind of thinking. But did you realize you may have this opportunity every day? The language is called dog, and with a little help, you can master your best friend’s native tongue. The ultimate goal, of course, is to be able to train your dog, but the ability to understand your dog is a necessary building block.
The Teacher Becomes the Student
Courtney of Freedom Tails Dog Training in Haymarket emphasizes the need for communication. “It is about training the human, too,” she said. “Training changes people’s perspectives. They can now understand canine behavior — why the dog does what it does.”
Chrissy of Ridgeside K9 agrees. “We show people how to be on the same level or channel of communication as their dog,” she says. “People struggle without some communication tools.”
To do this, owners must be able to read their dog’s behavior and signals. This ability to focus on your dog — to tune out distractions, to learn to attend better — is a skill that will not only serve humans well with dog training, but will be useful in other areas of life as well. As humans learn to watch their dogs carefully, interpret, react, and adjust, they’re actually training their own brains. This skill can then be applied to
mastering other skills, such as playing an instrument or handling a bicycle.
“Learning to train your dog is a skill like becoming a parent, in a lot of ways,” say Courtney. “It requires some discipline.”
Two more of the key skills with developing the discipline needed to train your dog are patience and consistency. Rather than expecting big changes overnight or in a week, work on small behaviors, and do them every day. Your dog will only develop habits if you develop them first — and do them every time. It’s
the key concept in the book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything by B.J. Fogg, who created an entire philosophy of change when he decided one day that he was going to floss just one tooth.
Your dog will present you with opportunities to apply these new habits every day — you won’t need to remind yourself to do them. But once you develop the skills of starting with small behaviors, and doing them every single time, you will be able to apply them to your own life in myriad ways.
While many people seek out dog training to try to eradicate unwanted behaviors that are driving them nuts at home, such as chewing, jumping, excessive barking, etc., dog training can be about more than just avoiding the negatives.
“Dog training helps people and their dogs to enjoy each other and enjoy things together,” says Chrissy. “People can have a cohesive lifestyle in which their dog is involved in their everyday life. They can take the dog out with them to experience life.”
Indeed, over the years, dogs have been promoted from the backyard doghouse, to a bed in the house, to being considered full-fledged members of the family. Public places have reflected these changes in society by allowing dogs in many stores, outside at restaurants, and at outdoor festivals.
Another important training skill humans can learn in the service of this goal — to integrate the dog into their lives — is that going out to have fun is not the only time to have fun. Humans need to learn to relax and enjoy the journey, not just the destination. And that means being able to handle frustration and setbacks that may occur during dog training. Resilience and the ability to laugh at yourself are critical skills
in the learning process.
Training Options Available Locally
So, where and what kinds of training are available in the Prince William area? There are quite a few options. The Prince William County Animal Shelter has resumed their free training courses. Not surprisingly, these fill up fast and you will likely have to put your name on a waiting list.
For paid trainers, humans can choose from in-home training sessions, in-person classes, and boarding. Yes, you can actually send Fido to boarding school, where trainers will even sometimes take him home with them. Many trainers offer a mix of services, so if you’ve mastered problems in your home and then want to move on to socializing your dog, you can attend classes without having to switch trainers or companies.
Topics range from basic obedience to doing tricks to emotional support. Some, like Ridgeside K9, will work on outdoor skills for those who really want to get out with their dogs, such as helping Fido get used to being on the standup paddleboard or going out on the kayak.
More Resources from Your Library
Finally, remember that your Prince William Library card always gives you access to a wide variety of materials. The Great Courses is a collection of normally very pricey classes on many topics. Each course is comprised of a series of videos taught by experts who are often nationally-renowned. “Dog Training 101” includes 25 videos and is available on the Kanopy streaming service with your library card. Universal Class is
another online learning program that offers courses such as “How to Choose the Right Dog for You” and “Advanced Dog Training.” In addition, the library offers Dogster magazine and subscribes to Magster, an online magazine service that allows users to read such titles as World of Pets.
Learning to train your dog produces benefits beyond the usual satisfaction people get from mastering a new skill. As trainers Chrissy and Courtney point out, dog training makes people’s lives less stressful and builds a stronger bond between them and their pets.
Wendy Migdal is a freelance writer who has lived in the Northern/Central Virginia area since 2000. She has written extensively for The Free Lance-Star and also works for online educational companies. Wendy enjoys traveling around the area to learn about parks, restaurants, attractions, and especially history.