Joseph Anthony Tovar found his calling for training dogs more than 35 years ago while working in law enforcement, which led him to open his own training business in McAllen: PSPK9.
PSPK9 specializes in training police service dogs but also works with civilians’ pets. As “valuable members of the family,” Tovar says it is crucial to fulfilling dogs’ needs and requirements through proper training.
“Every responsible pet owner should have some type of obedience because it allows the dog’s behavior to be redirected,” he said. “Without obedience, all you have is a wild animal and you are going to be miserable.”
He adds a pet’s behavior is determined by the owner and behavioral problems such as ripping things up or digging holes in the backyard are a result of inadequate attention and discipline from their human.
While the training for service dogs is a bit more rigorous, he says the fundamentals are the same and dogs learn through three principles: repetition, association, and consistency.
Tovar says anyone can train their dog without professional help if they are willing to dedicate as little as 15 minutes a day consistently for three to four weeks.
“That is the ideal time for the person to commit to the dog and say, ‘let’s do five sits, six downs’ — four sets a day,” he said.
Although the ideal age to begin training is at 2 1/2 months, in cases where you adopt an older dog or have an older, untrained family pet, it is never too late for them to learn.
“When you begin with a puppy, they are like a sponge and are eager to learn and please their owner,” he said. “Any dog can be trained; it may just be a little more strenuous.”
One mistake to avoid is attempting to begin a training session when upset, as you will not have success.
“If you are not in harmony with your dog — if you are not in the best mood or have stress — do not train your dog; do not touch your dog,” Tovar said. “Take some time to reset your mind, then do your training. Dogs sense what we are feeling with our tone of voice.”
Tovar adds you do not have to enroll your dog in professional training courses in order for it to learn obedience. But if you do not have the time or patience, that is the best route.
At PSPK9, the trainers teach using a clicker. Tovar recommends buying one if attempting to train at home, as the consistent sound allows for rapid learning.
“It is kind of like a marker for the dog,” he said. “They learn, ‘this is what they want me to do — sit, lay down.’ It revolutionizes the training and expedites it.”
For most dogs, each command is followed by a treat. For dogs not interested in treats, Tovar says you could teach them using a ball or another toy. It is about “selecting the right drive” and using positive reinforcement.
With certain breeds that do not care for any type of reward and are not eager to please, the training period typically requires extra time.
The basic commands he recommends all dogs know include come — which Tovar says is the most important — down, or sit, and heel.
“The heel command basically means for the dog to walk at the owner’s left side at a comfortable pace where they can both take a nice walk and enjoy the environment,” he explained.
When a dog can follow commands, he adds, it makes for a wonderful and pleasant companionship.
“Imagine a nice trained dog you can take out in the morning,” he said. “You have got your routine. You put the leash on the dog and instead of it pulling you out the door you tell it nice and calm, ‘heel.’
“Or you take your dog jogging and meet a friend and you tell your dog to sit. You can shake that person’s hand and once that person is gone, you go back to a nice walk. It is such a beautiful thing.”