D ear Old Trainer: We have three kids, ages 8, 6, and 5, and four dogs. The dogs were trained before the kids arrived, and I want the kids to understand how to train when we adopt our next round of dogs. We read your column to them each week and they love it, but they respond better to video. We watched the “Wolves at Our Door” documentary, and they remember what they watched. Are there any dog training videos you recommend?
– Leslie, Monterey
Dear Leslie: The first consideration is to make sure the trainer actually knows how to train dogs. Lots of people claim to be dog trainers yet cannot train their own pack. The way I judge a trainer is to observe the trainer’s own dogs. The best on TV in my opinion is Cesar Millan, who is known as “The Dog Whisperer.”
Bob Dylan sang, “You don’t have to be a weatherman to see which way the wind blows,” and you don’t have to be a dog trainer to see that Cesar knows what he is doing. His pack of two dozen dogs is happy, confident and well-trained. And all of them were problem dogs when he took them in.
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He demonstrates the precise qualities a good trainer needs – patience, an understanding of canine psychology and a love for dogs. Be sure to point out to the kids how he uses those qualities as you watch. He doesn’t yell or use force; he controls the dog by using his intelligence. That is an important lesson every child should learn.
You have to be able to think like a dog in order to train one and he teaches people how to do it. All dogs are the same, but each dog has his own personality, and he shows how to evaluate a dog so you understand what makes him tick.
Remind your kids it is not as easy as he makes it look. It may take weeks to train a dog, but he has to compress those weeks into one episode. Also, he is always training a dog to refrain from an unwanted act, and that is easier than training a dog to perform an affirmative act.
There are two things to discuss with your kids after you watch an episode.
One, Cesar spends most of his time training the owner, not the dog. When a dog has a bad habit, the fault almost always lies with the owner, not the dog.
Two, he concentrates on pack psychology and why it is important to look and act the way a pack expects a leader to act. Emphasize this point with your kids so they understand a pack has only one leader. The dogs love them and will protect them and play with them, but will not accept them as leader until they learn how to act like one.
“Lucky Dog” is another show I recommend. Designed specifically for kids, it typically airs on Saturday mornings on CBS. Each week the trainer rescues a problem dog, trains it and places it in a home. It does a good job teaching kids the combination of how magical dogs can be, how to care for them and how to train them.