Old Trainer: Are you ever too young to properly train a dog

A woman plays with her dog at sunset, Saturday, Nov.  6, 2021, at a park in Kansas City, Mo.  The sun will set an hour earlier Sunday as people in most of the United States set their clocks back an hour to switch to standard time.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A woman plays with her dog at sunset, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at a park in Kansas City, Mo. The sun will set an hour earlier Sunday as people in most of the United States set their clocks back an hour to switch to standard time. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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Dear Old Trainer: My mom and dad adopted a 3-year-old German Shepherd mix for my early Christmas present. We have had family dogs before, but my dad trained them and I want to train this one. I am 13 and in eighth grade. Is that too young to be a trainer? His name was Jake but I want to call him Ranger so can he learn a new name? And what if I want to use one word for his command but he already knows another word for it?

Travis, Denton, Texas

A: Dogs don’t care how old a trainer is. They just care if you love them and spend time training them. Do that, and you’ll be a trainer.

There are three qualities a trainer must have to be successful—a deep love of dogs, patience, and confidence. If you have all three, Ranger will know it and work hard and learn fast.

Part of loving a dog is understanding what he’s trying to tell you. All dogs talk dog language to the person they love. Concentrate on watching how Ranger behaves so you will understand him. Watch his ears and eyes and tail. Before long you will start to see how he moves them to let you know what’s on his mind.

Confidence means you know you can train Ranger. It’s important to have it because Ranger relaxes when he sees you have it. Confidence is not just one thing. You acquire it by trying things that are hard to do and practicing until you can do them. Every time you learn something new you get more confidence.

A good way to gain confidence is to admit a mistake so you can learn from it. All trainers fail, but the good ones admit they were wrong and think of a better way to show the dog what they want. If you fail, but you admit it and keep trying and then succeed, it gives you more confidence.

If you try something and it doesn’t work, love on Ranger a little and tell him you have to find another way to do it and you need him to help you.

Patience is hard to learn sometimes. It means you always give Ranger time to think about things and to understand what you want.

Rule Number One for young trainers—old ones too, for that matter—is, “when the dog fails to understand the trainer’s commands, it is the fault of the trainer.”

Don’t worry about changing his name. Just tell him you have a better name for him and call him Ranger over and over. Pet him and love on him every time you do. He’ll learn his new name fast.

Same with commands. He doesn’t care what words anyone else used. He loves you now and the only thing that matters to him is the words you say.

Train him every day, but only a few minutes at a time. Then play with him or let him rest for a while before you hold another session. Always talk to him first and explain what you want to teach him. Love on him and brag on him when he tries.

Of all the things I listed above, loving on him and bragging on him are the most important.

The Old Trainer has been a trainer for three decades and has rescued, trained, loved, and placed more than 4,000 dogs. Send questions to: theoldtrainer@gmail.com

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