A quick blog post on dog training as a general concept. It might have been motivated by a question that makes me grit my teeth: Is your dog trained? But that leads to another question: What is dog training?

Is your dog trained? Have you ever gotten that question? How did you respond?

Initial Reaction

I have been asked that question. Most recently, I was with my dog River. Is she trained? In my head, I was thinking: “Of course, she’s trained. Does she perform every single behavior on cue flawlessly? No. Does she know a lot of behaviors that she will perform on cue nearly perfectly? Yes. Are we done training? No. We will continue training for the rest of her life.”

At some point, I simply say “yes” and walk away. I’ll admit that I sometimes feel defensive when someone asks that question. Because what I hear in their tone is “Isn’t your dog trained?” So, she has apparently done something that that person would not have wanted their own dog to do. Something a “well-trained” dog should not do. In those insecure moments, I hear “If you trained your dog, she wouldn’t do that.”

What is Dog Training?

River and I “work” hard together. I call our training sessions “work,” but they are super fun. We have at least one training session almost every day. So, what do I mean by dog training?

We work on manners. Jumping to greet is an ongoing battle. Yet, despite her overzealous greetings, River earned her Canine Good Citizen titles, CGC and CGCA, before she was a year old. We are currently working on going to her bed when the doorbell rings.

Dog training is not just manners. River earned her Trick Dog Champion (TDCH) title from Do More With Your Dog last year. Check out our video submission. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at least watch this one.

Behavior chain

And the training continues. We have been working on a freestyle routine. Nothing for competition. Just for fun. The limiting factor might be my choreography skills, or lack thereof, but she’s learning even more tricks for that.

We go to dog-friendly stores and restaurants to hone her public manners. We train for and compete in barn hunt. I want to give dock diving a try because she LOVES water. She can trim her own nails using a scratchboard: she’s got front paws down, and we’re working on back.

Yes, River has been trained, and she will continue to be trained.

I don’t say all of this to brag, although she is pretty fabulous. My point is that her training is a work in progress. We are always finding new things to try.

Training is a Process, Not a Switch

“Is your dog trained?” implies that there are two discrete states (sorry, that might be the statistician in me talking): trained or untrained. Yes or no. On or off. Right or wrong. If so, at what point does a dog become trained? Is there a set list of behaviors that a dog must learn before we can turn the “my dog is trained” switch on? Of course not.

Dog training is an process. After all, what is training really? It’s education. It’s learning. Are you educated? Sure. Do you know everything? Nope. Spoiler alert: you never will. We spend our entire lives learning. Wouldn’t life be boring if we didn’t?

And training is not always a linear process. Polite greetings are a challenge despite the fact that she earned her CGC. Two steps forward, one step back.

When I train my dog, I am simply teaching my dog to do certain behaviors on cue. During a training session, my dog is learning. When we are not training? Well, she’s learning then too. River figured out how to open a baby gate after watching a person open it several times. Sigh. So, yeah. She’s trained, and she’s freaking smart! (Ok, maybe I am bragging a little.)

Honestly, I prefer to say that River has trained and is currently training. And she will continue to train. River has learned a lot, and she will continue to learn for the rest of her life. I hope you and your dog do too! Rant done.