Creating a teaching dog out of the dog you already own

Let’s start with the idea that you may create a teaching dog out of the
dog you have sitting at your house right now.

If your dog is an All-Rounder, then look no further! Brush up on those obedience skills and get that pup to work. But even if your dog isn’t Lassie, there is most likely an application that you can use him for.

The important part about using a dog you own as a teaching dog is to make sure that his personality and skill level ft what you want to do with him. I’ve found that, while you will once in a while get an elusive All-Rounder, many times, even if you have gone into the purchasing process wanting an All-Rounder, you may not get one.

But not having a dog who’s perfect in every possible way should not prevent you from using your dog where you can. Think of it this way: If our dogs were human doctors, your All-Rounder would be a
general practitioner, while the other personality types are specialists.
Both are very necessary, and very valuable for their own strengths.

Let’s take my current two dogs as an example:

Uluru is an 8-year-old Australian Cattle Dog cross who I would consider to be a very confident Ms. Particular. I’ve done extensive training and proofing with her, and she enjoys showing off her cues to anyone who wants to watch. She also loves attention. Uluru will work with just about anyone, provided they have a treat for her. She can be around other dogs provided they have perfect body language and correction escalation. But if other dogs body slam her or even so much as look at her out of the corner of their eye, Uluru will overcorrect them, and has no problem escalating into a fight.

Uluru has been one of my favorite teaching dogs and one of the most useful tools in my dog trainer toolbox. The applications that I use Uluru for include being a helper dog for dog reactivity cases— because of her incredibly solid stay and heel—and as talent for many commercial shoots because of her ability to hit a mark and the way she doesn’t crumble under pressure or long working hours. Oh, and because she’s freakin’ gorgeous. (Wait! Doesn’t everyone think that about their own dogs?) I never use her to socialize other dogs, as she is just not fair in her systematic correction escalation, and has a tendency to be overbearing with shy or nervous dogs.

On the other hand, Porterhouse is a different dog who I use in completely different applications. Porter is the guy who helped me coin the term “Cool Kid” when I talk about dogs. He taught me about the importance of space when it comes to dog behavior, and about motivation and reinforcement. Porterhouse is a 5-year-old Border Collie mix, whom I adopted at 6 weeks of age from a local shelter. His cool tendencies began when he was just 8 weeks old, and I noticed budding dog-dog aggression at 10 weeks of age.

Socialization didn’t help Porterhouse, as he wanted nothing to do with other dogs. He simply wanted to fetch balls. Porterhouse was also incredibly sound sensitive from a young age. Thunder, fireworks, a backfiring truck or any other host of noises would send him (and still do) running for cover in the safest place he could think of—the nearest available bathtub. Porter is one of the brightest dogs I’ve worked with, is a diligent and creative worker, and has incredible body awareness. But I know that there are simply applications that I can not utilize him in.

For example, anything to do with dog socialization. While he has never hurt a dog, and prefers not to aggress toward them, Porter does not care to be in the same space with dogs. He is fne to hang out in a yard and fetch things for people around other dogs, provided that those dogs do not try to touch anything that he is fetching. But the second a dog enters the three-foot personal body bubble around him, Porter will issue a correction whether it is deserved or not. Then Porter will hide under something, or attempt to seek refuge in a bathtub if possible, while he calms himself down from the unsavory encounter.

Porter also can not be used as talent in a commercial or ad shoot, as he will crumble under pressure and with loud noises.

But Porterhouse is an incredibly talented dog when it comes to having people handle him through an agility course to feel what it is like to run a dog who knows what he is doing. Porter is also rather good at showing clients and other dog trainers the process of shaping behaviors. This dog can learn a trick in no time flat!

The bottom line is that there is a good chance that even if your
own dog has modifiable or manageable behavior issues, you can use
him as a teaching dog in some application. Perhaps not all applications, but definitely some. The key lies in knowing what your dog’s strengths are and matching his jobs to what suits him, and then not pushing him past what he’s capable of being successful at. Refer back to the Personality Chart at the end of Chapter 3 to fnd out what your dog may be capable of doing, and use this as a guide when deciding where to use your dog.

Using other available dogs as teaching dogs The other option, of course, is to use one or more of the dogs you are already working with as a teaching dog. If you do not have a dog at your own home who can handle working in the application that you need him for, this is a fine alternative. Fortunately for you, I’ve found that in practice, my regular clients are generally happy to lend me one of their dogs for the afternoon or even just during class so
that I can utilize them.

The beneft to your clients is that their dog gets a free training session with you and an afternoon of fun. So you’ll return to them a mentally and physically exhausted dog. The benefit to you is that if you are a successful dog trainer, you likely have a rolodex of clients who have just about any personality of dog that you could ever want right at your fngertips and just a text away.

The most common usages for other people’s dogs are in classes and private lessons. For this section, we’ll delve into how to use the dogs who show up to classes and lessons as teaching dogs.

Choose a dog who wants to work for

you Look for a dog who wants to be your helper. It’s human nature that we don’t hit it off with every other person that we’ve ever met. That’s the reason we form close bonds with some people and others are mere acquaintances. And while you likely have a general affection for dogs (hence why you chose this profession), let’s be honest: There are some who you just have chemistry with. Choosing a dog whose skills and attributes you’re very familiar with, and one whose owner you have a good relationship with, will help you succeed in utilizing him
in a lesson or a class. If you do not have a good working relationship with the dog or owner, the dog may not work with you, or worse yet, may shut down completely. That doesn’t bode well for your success using the dog for a lesson.

Different breeds, different attitudes?

Part of being a good dog trainer is choosing the right dog for the job you need him to do with you. While there is no one breed that will be 100% infallible (we’re talking about dogs, not robots after all!),
there are some breeds that seem to enjoy this work more, and others who generally are not the best candidates for working as teaching dogs. Of course, there will be individuals of each breed who will relish working for you, and others who will not care for the job.

Change it up!

While you may have a right-hand dog when it comes to borrowing from your clients to use for private lessons, it is especially important to vary up the teaching dog you are using while teaching classes. I understand that when you are instructing, you are going to undoubtedly come across an All-Rounder who wants so badly to be

your demo dog for everything and picks up new concepts so quickly that he makes you look like a dog training genius every time you ask, “May I use your dog for this lesson?” But your cover will be blown the frst time one of the other clients says, “Sure, the instructor loves that stupid Labrador, Buster, but she never uses my adorable Yorkie, Fluffy!”

Tempting as it may be, don’t use the same dog for every demonstration, lest you risk owners who think you are playing favorites.
Instead, do a quick assessment of each dog in the room and think about where you may be able to use that dog. Then go for it! Know that sometimes it may not work out the way you pictured it would, and that that’s another lesson in and of itself. But other times, you’ll get to revel in the glow of watching the proudly lit-up face on an owner whose dog just did a glorious demonstration for the whole class.

And be assured that every time an owner looks at you and proudly says, “Buster really loves you so much,” that actually translates into “Buster’s owner really loves you so much.” Spoiler alert: Buster probably likes you too, but he’s a Labrador, so he’s also totally in it for the cookies.

What to look for when searching for a teaching dog of your own

So maybe you’ve decided to begin the search for that perfect dog to complement your business model. Where do you go first? When it comes to acquiring a dog, you’ve got two great options: purchasing a dog from a reputable breeder or adopting a dog from a shelter! Both have advantages and disadvantages.

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