This page on Street Safety Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network

Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section One of the Advanced Course

Street Safety Training
Page Three of a three-page section

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When to Start Street Safety Training

One of the basic rules of dog training is that the best way to deal with behavioral problems is to keep them from ever getting started. Ideally, then, it is best if you can begin street safety training with your dog soon after he arrives at your home, hopefully while he is still a young pup and at a point in his life where he has no history of ever having entered the street without permission, because, in fact, he has never walked in the street at all.

It is true that working with a pup will require a great deal more patience on your part, because it will take many more repetitions before a young dog will get the idea and start to sit on his own accord each time he reaches a curb. However, if you actively and intensely engage your dog in the process of developing those skills throughout his critical stage of development, by faithfully building his expectation that one of those three events will occur each time he reaches a roadway, his chances of eventually rising to master that procedure will increase geometrically. And facilitating your dog's mastery of a procedure that can spell the difference between life and death is a worthy goal indeed.

For that reason, it is best if you can start street training your dog right from the first time that you take the new arrival for a walk. If he is a puppy, then, so much the better. Just be sure that you carefully read and understand the page called The Age at Which Training Should Begin, before you start working with a young dog.

Regardless of his age, you will want to start street training your dog the very first time that you take him out for a walk. Therefore, you will need to get into the habit of focusing your attention on your dog every time the two of you arrive at a curb.

Shouldering the Responsibility

Until your dog gets in the habit of sitting and waiting curbside, you will need to discipline yourself and resolve that at every street you will do one of the following:

  1. Give him the okay to proceed, just an instant before steps into the street.
  2. Ensure that he sits properly and waits for the release before he steps into the street.
  3. Or, if you were walking with your dog in the heel position when you reached the roadway, you will need to reissue the command to heel as you step off the curb.

When you are street training a very young dog who is far from mastering his sit command, it may be best to always give him the release command just a second or two before he steps into the street, as opposed to sometimes stopping at the curb to make him sit. It might work best if you just continue with that practice and, then, later, after you have used a this - not that, procedure to teach your pup to always stop at the curb, you can go back at that point and teach him to always sit when he arrives at the curb.

If you do start off his training with a strategy of simply giving your pup the okay at every curb, make sure that you are walking in an area with light traffic and make damn sure that there are never any cars coming at the instant that your pup arrives at the roadway.

If you are walking your dog in a place with heavy traffic, you may find that you and he are forced to stop at almost every street. However, in an area with little traffic, you may find that the two of you cross one street after another with no cars in sight. You might, in fact, find yourself in a place where your walk carries you to a new, empty street at a rate of one street every minute or two.

Of course, at every street you will either need to give your dog the okay to step into the road, or you will need to order him forward at heel. Once your dog has been ambushed enough times, he will listen carefully, and if he does not hear some verbal indication from you that he is supposed to move into the street, he will not do so. Quite to the contrary, your dog will stop and sit and wait for as long as it takes until you let him know that it is okay to move forward.

I am embarrassed to admit it, but there was a least one time in my younger days when, while out walking with my off-lead dog, I fell into a daydream so all consuming that I completely lost track of the animal. When I finally came to the sudden, panicked realization that he was no longer with me, I looked back to see him sitting on the curb, three blocks back, still waiting for the release command so that he could cross two streets and catch up to me.

In the direction in which I was walking, the blocks were only two houses wide, so three blocks back was not as far as you might have at first pictured. Nonetheless, it was much further than one should ever be from their off-lead dog, and it was entirely my fault.

That is the great danger with overteaching your dog by way of an ambush procedure. When it is done right with a dog who has a strong propensity to develop obedience skills, it can be so effective that it will all but ensure that your dog will sit at the curb and wait for the command no matter what. Dogs trained in that thorough fashion will often sit curbside for an amazingly long time, watching you walk off and disappear into the distance while they wait for someone to give them the release command.

A well trained dog will still be sitting and waiting ten minutes later, long after you have disappeared from sight. I raised one German Shepherd who, I am completely certain, would have sat on the curb for an hour or more, waiting for me to come back.

It is a nightmare scenario to have your dog sitting all alone, curbside by a busy street, as traffic rushes by on all sides, and with you nowhere to be seen, as the animal grows increasingly forlorn, wondering where you might be, and if you are ever coming back.

The more thoroughly you train your dog, the more he will trust you in dangerous situations, and the more he will depend on you to come through for him. That means that, when it comes to street training, if you are unworthy of his trust, your negligence just may get him killed.

You shoulder an awesome responsibility every time you step out your front door with your dog, especially if you have the animal off lead.

Timing Your Release Command to Minimize Frustration

There is at least one other thing that you need to watch for when it comes to street training your dog.

If you want a well trained dog, then, you are going to have to make the experience enjoyable for your four-footed companion. That's just how it is. Dogs that don't like their training regimen seldom become well trained, so part of the secret to handling your dog effectively is to ensure a dense schedule of reinforcement for the animal. To do that, you will need to eliminate everything from the training regimen that is irritating or frustrating for your dog.

Therefore, when you are out walking with your dog, it is essential that you watch him carefully. If it is your intention to allow your dog to step off the curb with you, then, it is incumbent upon you to time your release command just right, so that your dog receives the okay, just a second or two before his forward momentum carries him into the street, so that your dog will not have slow up or stop unnecessarily.

Frequently forcing your dog to stop, or to break stride and wait because you are daydreaming, is disrespectful to the animal. But worse yet, such inconsistencies can cause your dog doubt the extent to which he can count on you to do your part, which can totally undermine the training process.

Also, having his walk senselessly disrupted by your consistent failure to properly time your release commands can be extremely frustrating for your dog. That is an important matter, because again, to the extent possible, it is essential that you eliminate all frustration from the training process.

Warning - Danger

I have known dogs whose curbside manner was absolutely perfect, meaning that they never, ever entered the street without being released or commanded to do so. Even if someone made a conscious effort to trick them or lure them into the street, they still wouldn't do it, because their curbside manner was impeccable.

Nonetheless, teaching your dog proper street etiquette does not, by any means, guarantee that he will have street smarts.

The street smart dog will watch carefully for moving vehicles and make it a point to keep out of their trajectory. A dog who is truly street smart will not run out in front of a moving automobile, even if you mistakenly time your release to coincide with the arrival of a speeding vehicle.

However, some dogs who have undergone extensive street training remain street stupid, in that they will still run into the roadway, directly into the path of a speeding automobile, if you mistakenly give them the okay by issuing the release command at exactly the wrong moment.

Therefore, you need to pay attention, because streets that are frequently empty can lull you into the habit of mindlessly issuing the release command at every street corner, without actually looking around first to make sure that there are no cars coming. With that in mind, when walking with your dog, you need to come out of your daydream at least long enough to make damn sure that the street is clear before you indicate to your walking companion that it is okay for him to move forward. And always remember that being curb trained is not necessarily the same as being street smart.

This marks the end of the Street Safety section of the advanced workshop.

Go to the street safety training index

Continue on to the third section in the advanced workshop sequence

This page on Street Safety Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network