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Seriously, Train Your Dog Already

Hellpuppy Kora on Patrol
'Driver! Follow that squirrel!'

So Hellpuppy Kora is the first dog we’ve had as adults. At least for our families, the family dogs of our childhood were…just sort of there. They didn’t really have much in the way of training, partly because as kids we had no idea how to train them and mostly because our parents didn’t have time due to…well, I mean, they were too busy trying to train us not to gnaw on furniture to worry with the resident quadrupeds. We knew before we got Kora that we wanted to be able to train her…and seeing this post about National Train Your Dog Month got me thinking again about the regret I feel towards those earlier dogs.

In my family, our dogs were outside dogs. And I don’t regret that–we lived where they had free reign of several acres and they looked to be having a damn blast. I’m sure somebody could try and tell me differently but they seemed happy as hell to be tearing around, terrorizing wildlife, you know–what you would do if you were a dog. No, it’s in seeing just how well Kora turned out and just how damn smart she is…that I have to wonder how smart my family dogs actually were…and I regret not finding out because I didn’t know to train them. And I think we all would have had more fun if we had been able to figure out interspecies communication. Along those lines–and before I tell you why I think you need to get your dog trained–here’s the video we watched that set us down the path of how to train Kora.

This made perfect sense to us. We knew we could only handle the one dog–and I had figured if you’re going to only have one, go big (and I had always wanted a big black dog). We also knew we wanted to train the dog so we could handle the dog. Especially when, in going through the various breeds and deciding on the one that we thought would work best, we came across the cane corso.

The Badass Chaos from About Time Cane Corso

That on the right is the picture that sold us on the cane corso. How badass is she, right? If you saw her bounding through the snow towards you, you would simply crap your intestines and die. That’s Chaos, from About Time Cane Corso. (And as you can see on their website about her, we’re apparently not the only people who took one look and decided “Yes, have some.”) Chaos looks like a freaking hellhound. How could I not want one? (And Kora is the hellpuppy, because being part corso, she’s not 100% hellish.)

Anyway, the point is this: any dog that you can’t control has the potential to be dangerous. But a dog like that–one that looks like a boxer on steroids–is like the grizzly in Dr. Dunbar’s talk. If you’re staring down the barrel of a hundred pound dog (or even more), you had best have control over that dog. And having seen firsthand what happens when dogs get out of control, this was a concern.

So if you haven’t gotten your dog trained, here are some things that we learned by training Kora that might help you decide to do so.

[ad#rightpost]It’s Actually Relatively Easy Once You Know How. We watched more of Dr. Dunbar’s videos at his site and did some Googling and were able to figure out how to get Kora to understand what we wanted. If you don’t know how to get a dog to sit at all, much less on command, then yeah, you have no clue and it’s daunting. But once you see somebody explain: get the dog’s attention with some food, lift the food above their head, the butt hits the floor so they can look up at the food…holy crap, it works. Does it take a little bit of time? Sure. Does it take some effort? Yes. But does the payoff more than cover the time and effort? Yes. If for no other reason…

You Can Minimize Destruction. I had resigned myself, when we knew we would have an inside dog, to the loss of probably at least 25% of my belongings. However, teaching Kora what was hers and what was ours and making sure she knew that our stuff was off limits (and that we were higher up the household hierarchy than she was)…well, it worked. Considering the fact we have a ninety pound beast loose in our house–most of the time roaming around unsupervised (well, it’s Kora, so lying around unsupervised)–our losses have been minimal. A few shoes early on, one of Cosette’s fairy doors, a few socks…really, all in all, compared to stories that I’ve heard–not that much. And, surprisingly, since we feed her mostly out of Kongs (plastic toys)…the Kongs last forever. My theory: she knows she gets her food in them, so why would she destroy them? Never would have thought a dog could not destroy something.

You Can Minimize Injuries. We were watching a documentary one day where they went out into the Amazon to record the bite force of wild piranha, as piranha in captivity apparently don’t have the same oomph. We started thinking: considering how big Kora’s mouth is and how powerful her jaws are, what bite force would she have? (I’ve seen online where full-blown corsos have 700 PSI or more.) However, because we trained Kora to understand that humans are very fragile creatures that shouldn’t be gnawed on, I can be roughhousing with her and she can be snapping away…but if I stick my fingers in her mouth, her vicious biting turns to licking. (If you come to my house and try this, YMMV.) If there have been any injuries, they haven’t been her fault–we’ve just been too close while playing or moved into the path of a claw or something. Having seen people get injured by dogs the size of a shoebox, if for no other reason, no matter what your dog, you want to at least train them to not poke holes in you.

Hellpuppy Kora, Vampire Attack Dog
Kora, once she learned to sit, stay and bark, all on command, quickly moved onto more advanced subjects: like vampire hunting.

You Get to Find Out How Awesome Your Dog Is. Ten years ago, I never would have thought I could have a dog that could make a decision between two things. “Do you want a Kong or a chew?” (The Kong most times bounces away, forgotten.) I wouldn’t have thought I could have a dog that would, as Dr. Dunbar said, understand a string of information. Kora understands what “First this then that” statements mean. Kora remembers which car in the garage is mine and which is Cosette’s, evidenced by how confused she got the one time she went to take a ride with Cosette and Cosette drove my car. Kora knows the name of the “doggie day spa” she visits and will proceed to freak the hell out with excitement when she hears that she’s going. I mean…that’s awesome. Every dog is different and yes, some dogs are thicker than others, but if you get to unlock some wickedly cool things your dog can do…that’s just, well, wickedly cool.

Oh, and here’s something else. You Really Can Do It Yourself. I can see where if you simply don’t have time then it might make sense to get a professional. Or if you have a dog with problems and you need some help, then yes, by all means. But you don’t have to spend a huge amount of coin. Get online, watch some videos, try some things and see what works. I think it’s best to train the dog yourself anyway since then there’s no doubt who’s in charge.

Having read in that blog post that only 4% of dogs get any training, I felt I owed it to my previous dogs to say something. Not only can you save yourself (and your dog) from getting hurt and not only can you save yourself (and probably your dog) a goodly amount of lost sanity, but based on my experience with the hellpuppy, I think most dogs are more awesome than we know. We just have to figure out how to communicate with them, let them know what we want (and make it worth their while) and then life gets easier for everybody. And a lot more fun.

Hellpuppy Kora Distracted
'My name is Hellpuppy Kora, and I approve thi--whoa, hold up, I think somebody's opening a can--!'

Got some tips or other experiences with training your dog? Share them in the comments.