Dear Matthew: I have a chocolate Lab. His name is Ankor. He is almost 2 years old, and he is crate-trained. In other words, I leave him in the crate when I am not home. I would like to train him to stay out. When I have tried to keep him out, he has torn up stuff. I really need to work on him with all commands. Is it too late? What type of training program would you suggest? Good luck with your work.
-Sherry in Sanford, N.C.Dear Sherry: Although people say you can't teach old dogs new tricks, that's simply not true. It's never too late for you to give your dog proper obedience instructions. I'd suggest you and your dog enroll in some local training courses, where you can develop your relationship with your dog while learning the proper techniques.
As for your specific question about crate training, what you ought to do is first start by giving your dog the run of a small area of your house. If you let him out of the crate and give him access to all your rooms, he's going to behave like a kid in a candy store.
Also, be sure you aren't doing things to get your dog all worked up before you leave the house. If you make a big ceremony over saying goodbye, Ankor is going to have a lot of energy when you leave and no way to properly release it.
Speaking of pent-up energy, if you give your dog a nice walk before you leave him alone, you're much more likely to wear him out, so he won't be interested in tearing apart any of your prized valuables.
If you try a combination of these tactics, you should see a marked reduction in the amount of trouble Ankor gets into while you're away.
And, for the other readers out there, I wouldn't recommend the crate technique for keeping your pet safe while you're away. Dogs need to stretch their legs and have more room to roam than a crate allows - even a big one. It's a much better idea to properly train your dog at an early age and only use crates for when you're traveling with your pet.
Dear Matthew: Dogs have always been an integral part of my life. For the last seven years, I have spearheaded an animal-welfare league that places 100 percent of the 250 to 300 dogs that enter our county shelter here in Rappahannock County, Va.
Over the years, we have enlisted the aid of an animal behaviorist in our area to help with behavior modification on several of our "harder to adopt" animals.
Recently, in an effort to learn more to help our shelter dogs, I went to work for this behaviorist. Her methods use love as reward. I have witnessed some amazing transformations.
There are times, however, when I question the degree of correction that some of the trainers who work there employ. Can you help me out? I would love to know your opinion on corrections.
I have and will continue to be a person who acts on a level that feels correct to my being. I feel a connection with the dogs I am working with and have only used corrections that I felt are appropriate for the behavior being displayed, when prompted to by other trainers.
The dogs I have worked with (and this is all new to me) have turned out fine in their basic obedience lessons without corrections. The bottom line is, I want to explore additional avenues of philosophy and training. Thanks for your time.
- Lisa in Sperryville, Va.
Dear Lisa: The level of correction you give a dog definitely depends on the dog's personality type. More energetic, disobedient dogs require a firmer hand, while shy or timid animals have to be handled in a much gentler fashion.
I've found that the proper way to correct a dog is through what I call the "Margolis Maneuver" - a firm tug on a leash attached to the training collar when a dog does something incorrect is all the force you need to let the dog know its behavior is unacceptable. The key thing to remember is that you're teaching the dog, not punishing it.
Using a rolled-up newspaper, hitting a dog or other forms of physical abuse are always counterproductive. As your animal behavior specialist obviously knows, it's much more effective to train a dog using love, rather than fear.
By the way, I want to thank you for your work finding homes for abandoned animals - you're truly a lifesaver. And I encourage more people to go to the shelter when looking for a new pet. There are plenty of terrific animals there that need loving, happy homes.