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Roxy has completed her puppy training
Opinion,  Trail Dogs

The Trail Dog Chronicles: Puppy Training

Our trail dog in training, Roxy, recently completed puppy training and I can’t recommend it enough. She didn’t finish the course with the ability to speak on command or play a musical instrument. Nor did she learn anything directly related to being a trail dog, but the puppy training course we took her through set her up with some important foundations that every puppy could benefit from, whether on the trail or anywhere else.

The training was as much about training us as dog owners as it was about training Roxy

The training was as much about training us (my wife Heather and I) as dog owners as it was about training Roxy. And although we learned many of the basics such as sit, stay, down, etc., the overarching theme was on socialization and teaching patience—two important aspects of dog training that will set Roxy up for further trail dog training.

Patience is a virtue

Being patient is an important human trait, but it is also very important for our canine friends. Dogs aren’t born knowing how to be patient. It’s something they need to be taught. Don’t get me wrong, some dogs find it easier to master than others and will pick it up very quickly. Roxy isn’t one of those dogs, but she has potential. One thing we were looking for in a pooch was high energy and this may contribute to her lack of patience! 

Everything Roxy and the other puppies learned throughout the course of their puppy training, comes back to patience. Whether it’s learning to sit, walk on a loose leash, or come when called, none of it would be possible without a bit of patience.

patience is an important skill for puppies to learn if they want to some day become trail dogs
Good recall is a sign that a puppy has learned some patience and is able to ignore their surroundings when necessary. (Luke Marshall/RideSphere)

For example, one of the most important things this particular puppy training class covered was loose leash walking. For a puppy, this requires immense patience. In order to perfect loose leash walking, dogs need to be able to resist smells (among other things) as they walk. If they pull on the leash, they are gently corrected and the walk comes to a brief stop—something most dogs do not want to happen. Doing this over and over again teaches the puppies that if they want to continue walking and having fun, some self-discipline and patience is required. Of course, this is easier said than done and requires hours of practice with a hands-free leash, but it will be well worth it in the end.

Take it or leave it

Another great way we learned to teach patience was by playing the game ‘take it or leave it’. Here you teach the puppy patience by delaying taking a treat: leave it. By asking them to leave it, they need to control themselves until you give the command: take it. This game is an especially powerful patience-building tool for Roxy. Being a lab/pointer, she is highly motivated by food.

Being patient on the trail

Having a patient dog is helpful in all aspects of their lives, and it is no different on the trail. A patient dog will be less likely to take off after a squirrel or stop to smell the thousands of exciting aromas the backcountry has to offer. When we ride with our dog, we want to be the ones to decide when it’s time to stop and go. Not them. If it were up to them, we’d be stopping every 30 seconds to chase or smell the latest, greatest thing to come along.

In my opinion, one particularly important skill for a potential trail dog to learn in puppy training, is recall. This is an important exercise in patience. It teaches puppies to be aware that they can be called upon at any time to return. And to return no matter what distractions there are nearby or between them and you. 

For some simple ways to teach your dog patience, take a look at this article on teaching your dog self-control by the American Kennel Club.

Get social

Along with teaching patience, socialization is important for puppies and it was another main focus of Roxy’s puppy training. As expected, socialization means meeting and interacting with other dogs and puppies, but it also means exposing them to different situations and people. 

Each training class would begin with ‘puppy playtime’ where all the puppies were let loose to play. As the classes progressed, they became more and more familiar with each other and the play intensified. Another aspect of in-class socialization was exposing our puppies to different people. To accomplish this, each class would end with ‘pass the puppy’. Puppy owners would sit in a circle and the puppies would get passed from person to person for a few minutes each. This meant the puppies could get used to being handled by different people. In turn, the owners were able to get an idea of the different temperaments and personalities of different dogs.

puppies learn to socialize with each other
Socializing your puppy with other puppies will help ensure they grow up to be confident on and off the trail. (Luke Marshall/RideSphere)

Apart from exposure to people and other dogs, the puppies were also exposed to different situations. One training class was held in a busy urban area, and another took them for a lap through a department store.

Of course, all of this is only a taste of the wider world for the puppies. It’s helpful to expose them to as many different people, dogs, and situations as possible for the first two years of their lives.

Getting social on the trail

So how does this help us when it comes to training a puppy to be a trail dog? Well, a properly socialized puppy means a confident puppy—one who will eventually grow into a confident dog. One you can take anywhere, including the trail.

It’s a given that while out riding with Roxy, we will encounter other people and dogs. If she’s well socialized, there is much less chance of these encounters ending negatively. Not everyone riding or hiking is comfortable with dogs, and they may not appreciate having one jumping all over them as you pass by. By the same token, if you have a dog that isn’t used to people, they may lash out at someone out of fear. Nobody wants that! The same can also be said for other dogs you might meet along the trail. If your dog doesn’t know how to interact respectfully with other dogs, things can quickly take a turn for the worse.

Here is a video from Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution for some quick tips on socializing your puppy.

Back to Basics

Not all puppy obedience classes are the same. We took Roxy to Clever Canines, a dog training school and day school here in Calgary, Alberta. Among other things, they taught a lot of the basics you would expect to be covered. Here is a list of all the skills the class touched on over 5 weeks (10 classes):

    • Loose leash walking 
    • Socialization
    • Take it or leave it 
    • Recall
    • Sit
    • Stay
    • Down
    • Shake a paw
    • Roll over
    • Drop it
    • Proper human-to-dog greetings
    • Proper dog-to-dog greetings (on leash)

Practice makes perfect

Well actually, in reality, it doesn’t. Practice makes improvements. It’s important to remember that no dog or puppy is perfect and they never will be. Finishing a puppy training course doesn’t mean Roxy has mastered all of the skills, tips, and tricks the instructors touched on. Far from it. Now we need to consistently practice (probably forever) everything we learned so it becomes ingrained in Roxy’s behavior, and in ours. Essentially, these courses tell you what to teach your puppy and how to do it. There’s no way anyone can teach them everything there is to know in just 20 hours of course time. It’s up to us to put in the work and make it happen.

I can’t say enough good things about the puppy class we attended. I would certainly recommend taking your puppy to one if you can.

Roxy’s puppy training has got us started on the basics, but we’re not stopping there. We’ve enrolled her in a more advanced training class beginning in the spring. That leaves us a couple of months to work on the things we learned in puppy class before we learn a whole lot more! Stay tuned for updates on Roxy’s progress.

On a personal note, I can’t say enough good things about the puppy class we attended. I would certainly recommend taking your puppy to one if you can.

If you’d like to learn more about how we decided on a lab/pointer cross and a few things to think about before taking the leap and getting a trail dog puppy, check out my article, “The Trail Dog Chronicles: Our First Mountain Bike Trail Dog!”

I’d love to hear from you

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section below, or you can contact me directly from our Contact page.

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