How do I suggest to someone that their dog needs some basic obedience training?
April 22, 2010 7:33 AM   Subscribe

How do I suggest to someone that their dog needs some basic obedience training?

The backstory: About 6 months ago, I found a stray dog in bad shape. I've done a lot of foster care for dogs, so I know what to do. I kept him (let's call him Rex) for a month or so, taking him to the vet, getting him healthy, etc. Then I started looking for a home for him. Fairly quickly, I found one. She is a friend of a friend, whom I've talked to a few times, so I new she was an animal lover and had had dogs previously. She took on the condition that he had to be good with kids. It turns out Rex is great with kids, so she took him as her own.

Fast forward to now. She is out of rown for a couple weeks, so I am taking care of Rex for her while she's gone. Not a problem, I have 3 dogs and 2 fenced acres, so there's room. He is retriever mix and loves to run around. It was the first time I'd seen Rex in the 6 months since she had taken him. He is overweight. Rex is somewhat of an escape artist and so cannot be let off-leash outside a fence. So he doesn't get any exercise other than walking. Rex is well taken care of and loved, but he needs to basic training (sit, stay, come) so that he can be let off leash to run.

Some qualifiers:
There are no fenced in dog parks in the area.
Rex's owner is a not a runner, so she can't take him running on a leash.

How do I suggest to her that he needs some training?
posted by allelopath to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think this is one of those subjects that it's not necessary or expected to be super-polite about it. I would just come out and say it. "Have you thought about bringing Rex to some obedience classes? He could really benefit from being allowed to run off the leash, which he can't do until he gets some basic commands."
posted by amethysts at 7:38 AM on April 22, 2010 [8 favorites]

amethysts said pretty much exactly what I was going to say. Phrase it as a simple "have you thought about..." suggestion and it won't come off as rude at all. And since you have a background with dogs, it will probably mean a lot more coming from you than some random stranger.
posted by joshrholloway at 7:45 AM on April 22, 2010

If you want to soften it, you can work it into a more general conversation about dogs generally and Rex specifically. When she comes back you can talk about how Rex was (make sure to be clear that he appeared to miss her, whether or not he did) and what kinds of things he enjoyed.

For example, "Rex really had a blast running around and chasing a ball. We'd love to have you and Rex visit here to play in our fenced yard from time to time, but also maybe with some obedience training he can get basic commands down so you don't always need to find a fence. I got to know him when I was getting him healthy, and I don't think he ever was loved enough by anyone to get that training."

You may want to be more forceful/direct, I think it depends on your assertiveness comfort level and relationship with friend of friend ("FOF"). If you don't know FOF well enough to be really direct, it might come off a little intrusive. Frankly, I would be annoyed if someone I barely knew gave me unsolicited advice on animal care. If it were a person I knew a bit better and trusted as an expert, that might be different, as others above say.
posted by bunnycup at 8:01 AM on April 22, 2010

Ugh, I forgot to add: When you make this suggestion, if you get traction on it be ready to suggest some reasonably convenient and moderately priced options for how to get that training. Here, we have a local kennel that gives discounts on training classes for adopted dogs, and I believe the SPCA refers to them regularly. So, if FOF seems into the idea, help her know how to take the next step.
posted by bunnycup at 8:03 AM on April 22, 2010

Place the emphasis on how much happier the dog will be. Because it's true.
posted by availablelight at 8:03 AM on April 22, 2010

It sounds like this dog is fairly well taken care of. Sure, there are flaws, but this sounds like a situation you should stay out of. It's not your dog. Mind your own business.

On a side note, I have had dogs in my life who were capable of obeying basic commands, but still ran off given the opportunity. (they would come back a few hours later) If you think the dog needs more exercise, why don't you give this woman an open invite to let her dog come by and play with yours in your fenced in area?
posted by soy_renfield at 8:20 AM on April 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

If Rex's new mother is a bicyclist, I'd like to recommend a walkydog. Walkydogs are a bicycle-mounted leash system that connects your dog to the seatpost of your bike. The dog then walks, trots or runs alongside as you ride. Because the connection point is right under the human's butt, the dog really can't pull the bike over. I bought one on the advice of Mefite labwench and my dog loves it. It's a great way to tire out my high-energy (mostly border collie, we think) pound mutt.

Some people are adverse to training their dogs, and a walkydog is a great way to get a lot of on-leash exercise in a small amount of time.
posted by workerant at 8:33 AM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

All of the escape artists I've known like to Go Go Go! I wouldn't trust one for even a second off leash unless I was sure the area had a good fence.
posted by ljesse at 8:41 AM on April 22, 2010

Nthing the point that not all dogs can safely go off leash. Some of them, especially the ones with a strong tracking instinct, just won't EVER develop a solid recall, no matter how much training is done -- sometimes the instinct wins out over the training. This goes doubly if training didn't start till nearly adulthood.
posted by mneekadon at 9:36 AM on April 22, 2010

The best approach to modifying the owner's behavior is likely to be consistent positive reinforcement. Seriously.

Thanks for fostering dogs and finding them homes.
posted by stet at 10:12 AM on April 22, 2010

Are you sure the dog is allowed to be off-leash where she is?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:48 AM on April 22, 2010

Response by poster: There are no legal issues with the dog being off-leash.

Several have made the contention that he may not be able to go safely off leash. This could be true. So the question is ... how can he get some exercise?
posted by allelopath at 1:37 PM on April 22, 2010

Someone above has mentioned the Walkydog bike attachment. Another solution might be to find someone who is a runner and wouldn't mind some canine company -- it's not as far-fetched as it might seem. (Example: I run several times a week, I used to run with my dog, but he has gotten old and arthritic and I can't afford to have two dogs, so I don't have a running buddy anymore.) I would love to have a no-strings-attached canine running buddy to share a run with.
posted by kataclysm at 1:46 PM on April 22, 2010

Also, does Rex's owner not have a yard at all, or just not have a fenced yard? If there is a yard and it just isn't fenced, it's pretty cheap to install a simple dog run with a long leash attached. Then, Rex's owner could just throw a ball. A half-hour or hour of ball-chasing a day would probably be adequate exercise.

Alternately, could Rex's owner take him to non-fenced land but put him on a long-line leash? (If the line is very long, she might have to tie it to a pole or some other stable structure, because a dog hitting the end of a 50-foot length of climbing rope can pull you over if you are small and/or weak.)

Ultimately, you can't really control whether or not Rex gets enough exercise. And, as many other people have pointed out, it might be Rex's instincts, NOT his owner's recall work or lack thereof, that are keeping him from being able to enjoy an off-leash romp. (My dog is pretty well-trained and does great in a non-fenced urban dog park, but I know that if we were off-leash in the woods and he saw a deer, he'd be after it in a heartbeat because of his strong prey drive. That's why when we go backpacking, he's tethered to a line around my waist.) In this case, there simply might not be anything that can be done. In future, you might consider questioning people about their living situation and/or activity levels BEFORE placing dogs, to make sure that this kind of problem doesn't occur again in the future.

(Plus, the overweight thing isn't necessarily because of lack of exercise. In my experience, when retriever mixes aren't getting adequate exercise, they're typically bouncing off the walls in frustration and/or being destructive in the house. You haven't mentioned that Rex is acting "hyper" or destructive or otherwise unhappy, so I'm going to assume that he isn't. So "just" walking might actually be enough to satisfy him; even well-exercised dogs can be overweight if they are being fed too much. My dog is a lab/setter cross, and retriever mixes tend to have low metabolisms. I feed him about half the amount of kibble that the kibble manufacturer recommends on the back of the bag, because I have found that if he is fed more than that, he gets overweight. And retrievers and retriever mixes have such sad, longing eyes that it's difficult to not give them that extra cookie. With people and pets alike, it's easier to just not eat too many calories than it is to burn them off later -- a dog can eat 500 calories in about two seconds, and it will take a lot of fetch to burn that off.)
posted by kataclysm at 2:02 PM on April 22, 2010

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