The four-month plan

Here's what I think about your training plan. Click for source.

We’re now officially four months away from moving and welcoming a dog into our new home. After a year and a half of concentrated waiting, four months sounds unbelievably close.

In this interim, here’s my (overly ambitious?) four-month plan for our future dog once we bring him/her home. I’m hoping to work through The Power of Positive Dog Training, which has been my favorite step-by-step training manual I’ve read so far. All that said, here’s the game plan!

MONTH ZERO: Goals for the months leading up to the move and adoption

  1. Move into new place! Make home as dog-friendly and dog-proof as possible.
  2. Interview GSD owners, meet some area GSDs.
  3. Send out applications to various GSD rescue organizations. Make home visits, speak with foster parents, and meet prospective dogs!
  4. Sit down together and establish house rules for the dog (furniture, bed, room privileges, etc.).
  5. Figure out our daily care schedules for the dog: Who will be home when, if we need a dog walker, etc.
  6. Give Guion a crash course in positive reinforcement dog training! And pretty much an overview of… everything I’ve learned in a year and a half of canine study.
  7. Start buying dog supplies! I’m really excited about this, even though I know it will be a lot of initial expenses.
  8. Choose a vet. Get recommendations from other pet owners in town.

MONTH ONE: Bringing the dog home!

  1. Learn new name (if needed. I have a feeling we’ll probably want to change the dog’s name. We’re both kind of particular about names… And I feel like a lot of the GSDs I’ve seen in rescue have rather silly ones).
  2. Get acclimated to house rules: House-training, daily routines, rules about furniture and certain rooms, etc.
  3. If needed, gradually transition to a healthy and high-quality kibble + weekly supplements of fruits, vegetables, rice, and beans.
  4. Carefully train and transition to avoid any separation anxiety.
  5. Evaluate potential problem areas (possessiveness, shyness, fear-based aggression, excessive barking/boredom, fear of inanimate objects, thunderstorm phobia, etc.).
  6. Create cautious and mannerly introductions to different dogs. Think of other calm, responsible adult dogs to introduce him/her to. Bo and Zoe would be great dogs to start with.
  7. First vet check up.

MONTH TWO: Settling in

  1. Attend a training class as a family. The PetCo and the PetsMart in town offer training classes, but there’s also an independent dog training studio nearby that sounds very promising.
  2. Work steadily and consistently on leash manners, if needed.
  3. Practice basic commands together: Sit, down, stay, heel, wait.
  4. Make introductions to as many types of people as possible. Aim to have these interactions be incredibly positive.
  5. Begin walking in bigger, busier areas, like the downtown mall and other parks.
  6. First bath. Also train for exposure to grooming, nail clipping, etc.
  7. Target problem areas identified in Month 1.

MONTH THREE: Working hard

  1. Practice car ride manners.
  2. Work consistently on basic commands, adding a few others to the repertoire.
  3. Once I feel comfortable with his or her mannerisms toward people, spend some time with calm, trustworthy children.
  4. Go hiking!
  5. Keep working to eliminate any problem areas.
  6. Have some play-dates with other neighborhood dogs.
  7. Begin training for a reliable recall.

MONTH FOUR: Adventuring out

  1. First family hiking excursion!
  2. Keep honing basic commands until they’re solid.
  3. Take some runs together.
  4. Try swimming (in a river or creek?) for the first time.
  5. Work consistently on recall abilities; test with a long line in a field.
  6. Add to trick repertoire.
  7. Practice working with a Frisbee.

I’m sure I’ll look back at this and laugh at all that I thought I could achieve. But it’s a start! Any thing you would add? Do you think I’m being too ambitious? Or do you think there are important goals that I’ve neglected? Do share! As always, I’m eager to learn from you.

Review: The Power of Positive Dog Training

The Power of Positive Dog Training, by Pat Miller

This was the first dog book I picked up in my year-long quest to learn about dogs and I am so glad it was.

After doing some preliminary online research on dog training, Pat Miller’s now classic treatise of positive reinforcement training kept getting a lot of buzz. Thankfully, my local library had a copy and I picked it up soon after reading yet another rave review of the book.

Miller’s basic mantra is that all animals repeat behaviors that are rewarded and avoid behaviors that are not. Punishment rarely achieves desired objectives when it comes to training an animal. Dogs seek to repeat behaviors that are positively reinforced. Quite simply, this is the entire belief system behind Miller’s training paradigm. Capture the behavior you want and then reward it. Attach a verbal cue after a few repetitions and Sparky is throwing sits at you right and left.

Even though I don’t yet have a dog of my own, I’ve spent a lot of time with dogs and trained my childhood Australian Shepherd from scratch back when I was a kid. I wish I’d had this book with me then! And I wish I had been more confident to confront my parents about their punishment/dominance-oriented methods of behavior control. Dogs don’t learn like humans. They don’t readily associate punishment with past behavior. This is why Miller stresses, again and again, the need to turn every desired behavior into an opportunity for positive reinforcement.

I took tons of notes while I was reading this book. I’m planning on putting Miller’s weekly training regimens into practice once we get our dog. She provides step-by-step instructions for teaching your dog each behavior and consistently provides advice for the dogs who aren’t perfectly mirroring these behaviors. I want to give a copy of this book to everyone in my life who has a dog or who is thinking about a dog.

One of the primary reasons I loved this book is that Miller has practical and scientific justification for her methods. Her techniques work and she explains why they do. Even though I like watching “The Dog Whisperer,” Cesar Millan isn’t very helpful to your average dog owner. He’s able to calm that psychotic Rottweiler with his “calm, assertive energy,” but what does that really mean for you on a daily basis? Miller is anything but esoteric. She gives you concrete, definite explanations for her methods, which in turn gives her readers a hearty dose of confidence.

My parents are talking about getting a dog once all of my siblings are out of the house. When the time comes, I’ll be mailing them a copy of this book!

For more information about Pat Miller and her programs, visit her excellent website, Peaceable Paws.