Tom Roderick

August 29, 2018

A Little a Day Keeps the Dog Trainer Away: Tom Roderick

Tom Roderick

You’re getting a dog, but will it be obedient or nothing but trouble? Whether it’s a puppy from a breeder or the shelter or an adult dog, Tom Roderick, author of A Little a Day Keeps the Dog Trainer Away, is going to show you the secrets to raising a puppy from day one so that it will bring you joy and companionship.

In this episode, you’ll learn how to select your new companion and how to prepare your home for your puppy and why crate training is so important. We’re also going to talk about what are some of the best foods for your dog and how to socialize them properly.

By the end of this episode, you will know how to raise and train your puppy more effectively. From the moment that you bring it home, up to a year later and beyond. Your dog and everyone it comes into contact with, will thank you.

Tom Roderick: I never really aspired as a young kid to be a dog trainer, but it just happened to work out that way because of my passion for dogs, and one thing led to another. I worked at a small dog boutique in middle school and a vet clean up in high school, and then I started doing training at Petco. I slowly but surely worked my work up to where I am now.

Charlie Hoehn: Roughly, how many dogs have you trained over the course of your career?

Tom Roderick: That’s a tough one, I’d say thousands.

The meat of my training experience came after college where I work at a kennel called CPI, it’s Canine Protection International. They get a stock of dogs delivered from Europe and you’re just shredding and pulling your skills training anywhere from 15 to 25 dogs a day. You do that for five, six, seven years, and it really adds up.

In terms of doing my own thing, it’s a much slower pace because it’s not a kennel like scenario. It’s more tailored to the owners, which just takes a little bit more time and everyone. These aren’t professional dogs that come. It’s not a German shepherd that is delivered from Europe that has a foundation and training. These are just people’s pets, kind of dealing with a little bit more complicated issues.

Researching to Pick the Right Dog for You

Charlie Hoehn: Let’s start with prep, what do we need to do to prepare ourselves in our homes before we bring home the puppy?

Tom Roderick: Even before that, if I catch wind of somebody preparing to get a dog, I really recommend taking the time to do research on the breed selection. 99% of the behaviors that owners come across can be negated or eliminated or just overall just nonexistent if you do the proper research and select a breed that’s appropriate for your family, your lifestyle, your environment.

If they have a big yard, a small yard, all those sorts of things. A lot of people will get a dog because they think it looks cool, or they saw it in the movies or they had one growing up but that’s not a great way to select a dog that’s going to be with you for 8, 10, 15, maybe even 20 years of your life. Before you even get into any sort of prep in terms of bringing a crate or a leash or food dishes and things like that, doing a little bit of research on is a pit bull really a good choice for me or is a Great Dane or Australian Shepherd a good choice for me in a small Boston apartment? I really recommend starting there.

Charlie Hoehn: How do you go about the process of researching like, are there particular sites that you find are really good?

Tom Roderick: There’s a Dog Breed Bible, that’s what it’s called. It really just lays out all the different breeds, their temperaments, their trainability, if they’re good with kids. Their longevity, their grooming, their health requirements, all those sorts of things. They’re pretty accurate.

If you go to the AKC.com, they kind of have their information as well, which is definitely a good place to start. Obviously Google is another great way to do research, asking people their experience with a particular breed if you see somebody who is really nailing it, has their dog really tight and it’s a really harmonious relationship and it’s all laughs and smiles.

“Hey, what’s that dog like? Hard to train?” Ask them questions and you can even ask them where they got the dog, was it a rescue, did they go to a specific breeder? Things like that can definitely go a very long way.

Bringing a Puppy Home

Charlie Hoehn: We’ve done the research, we followed the steps. Now we need to prepare ourselves and the home, right?

Tom Roderick: Yeah, the next thing you want to start to get in the mindset of is to make sure that you’re doing what you can make the puppy feel confident, secure, comfortable, accepted into the new environment. If you’re getting the dog when they’re 8 to 10 weeks, it’s not very old, but that’s all they know at that point.

If you’re taking them out of one environment and putting them in to a new one, there’s probably not going to be as much action in terms of litter mates or parents like their dog parents, and that can be stressful.

“Do just a little bit of soul searching—what is this dog going to need?”

A couple of different tools that I like to utilize is a crate. Crate is a great way to give a dog their own space where they can go and relax. You put blanket over it, everything is calm, quiet. That’s a great tool to use, because the last thing you want to do is take a puppy who isn’t very old, who isn’t used to stimulation of the world, throw them into a family of three kids and two adults with constant traffic coming in and out of the house with nowhere to go but just kind of the middle of the living room.

I think they will adjust, dogs are really adaptable. But you’re going to run in to a lot of other behaviors— just general anxiety, you could run into some lack of confidence issues, excited pees… I’m a huge advocate of the crate for that.

I think a crate is going to be your number one thing that you need before you bring it. The breeder, wherever you get the dog from, might even give that to you, which is kind of an added bonus. Otherwise, you can go pretty much anywhere. Petco, any dog boutique, you can buy it online, Amazon…so many different places have those.

Developing a Feel for Training

Charlie Hoehn: How did you develop that empathy that compassion for this other species? Was that just something you naturally developed over time or was it through research?

Tom Roderick: I think I definitely had a drive or motivation just in general interest in dogs, which is huge. I think for anything in life, if you’re interested and you’re driven, you can do a lot. I think that naturally gave me kind of the insight.

But I think aside from that, honestly, it sounds kind of gross, but trial and error. Working from a young age of 14 and going to the kennel and seeing what dogs look like when they’ve been mistreated. How they respond to different people, different environments, things like that.

Later in my career with the CPI, working with 15, 20, 25 dogs a day, you really get a sense of what dogs respond well to. I don’t want to put it in terms of what dogs like or don’t like, but what is good for the dog.

You have to understand picking up on their body language on their general demeanor. If they’re panting excessively or if they’re even shaking a little bit.

The Key to Puppy Training

Charlie Hoehn: At this point, we’re ready to bring the puppy home, what do we got to know now?

Tom Roderick: Okay, you brought the puppy home, you got your crate, you want to consider where you’re going to put the crate. Inside your room, the furthest point from your room if you don’t want to have to go through the growing pains of the whining.

You need to select a dog food. Dog food is very important. You want to have a meal plan.

“All the root of dog training comes from food drive.”

Meaning, a dog’s willingness to work for food. That’s the primary source of training. Getting them on a set schedule. You feed them in the morning, early afternoon, and evening, and that’s it. You start to create a habit of, “Food is valuable, I want food, I’ll do what I can to get that food.”

A lot of people will do what I call free feeding—put them down, they’ll walk away then try to use food for training. I got a meal that over there, what do I need that for?

Starting to get the ball rolling on house breaking is easier said than done, but you want to start to create good habits in terms of not going to the bathroom inside, taking them outside to a specific area to go to the bathroom. After they’ve gone to the bathroom outside, you can bring them back inside, and back and forth.

Other than that, you start to get into a little bit of later phase of puppy 101, talking like 8 to 16 weeks you want to start considering socializing your puppy. Socialization is paramount when it comes to dog ownership. And you want to start to think about food cultivation.

How to Socialize Puppies

Charlie Hoehn: I want to pause you there because the socialization part is you’re right, it is paramount, what is good socialization look like and actually, before you answer that, start with what typical socialization looks like for an owner that may not be the best.

Tom Roderick: The typical socialization when I walk into a home and talk to owners is they take their puppy, they take them to a dog park and let them off leash and it’s a free for all. A lot of times, that’s great. Dogs have a good time and they play and things can work out.

But you also get the other side of the story, which is about 50/50.

Where you take the dog out, take it to the dog park, and all of a sudden, more of a shy introverted dog in a dog park with 20 other dogs feels overwhelmed, he’s not having a good time. It becomes a little defensive, and the owners don’t pick up on that queue. Do that a few times over the course of 6, 12 months and your dog starts to develop a phobia around other dogs.

“When it comes to socialization, it’s really different for every single dog that you come across.”

If it’s a shy dog, I recommend quality over quantity, meaning, having one really good experience with one dog in a controlled environment. Dogs don’t even need to touch each other, they just can be in the same room, looking at each other and maybe sniff each other a little bit. That can be a positive experience or sometimes you have the goofy dogs who you don’t care about, you know, the labs and the pit bulls and the bulldogs—you’re just are goofy and super confident just innately.

There’s a lot more grace when it comes to socialization because they’re just big meatheads. You know, I have a pit bull and he was the same way. I could take him as a young puppy to a house full of 50 people, let him off leash, and he’s having a great time running up to people, going back, getting treats from people. You do that with a different dog, they’re going to have a very bad experience.

It’s really important for the owner to just monitor and just use your common sense and really ask yourself at the end of the play session or the socialization experience, did my dog have a good time?

Was he confident or is she confident? What was she doing with her tail, was she hiding behind me or was she trying to escape from other dogs? Or was she just having a blast?

Stages of Puppy Development

Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, your book has all this awesome information broken down by the age of the puppy, by the age of the dog. You have a chapter from 8 to 16 weeks and then 16 to 26 weeks and then 6 to 15 months. How did you decide to break it up this way?

Tom Roderick: I did it because that tends to be more or less the curve at which dogs learn. A lot of it is the way I structure my own personal business and the programs I offer. That’s all based off 8 to 16 weeks, you’re not going to be doing advanced things like a recall, or you’re not going to be doing a down stay. You’re really going to be focusing on socialization, house breaking, and really just having fun chasing food or chasing a ball because that’s all they can handle.

If you try to apply more complicated experiences or you know, exercises, the dog can be stressed and usually what happens when the dog doesn’t figure it out, the owners get frustrated and who knows where it goes from there?

“It’s kind of like trying to teach calculus to a child at ten years old.”

It just doesn’t really apply there. They don’t have a foundation yet. When they come to 16 weeks, they get a little bit more coordinated and can start to handle what I call a lure. It’s taking a piece of food on you, hold it above their head, and they follow it and they sit. You can lure it down, the lay down, you can start laying the foundation for going to your bed by pulling the food and putting near the bed.

They start to get that hand eye coordination down. Their appetites are a little stronger at 16 weeks, but they’re still puppies, so you can’t really apply too much pressure in terms of expecting them to sit and stay until I release him, even though there’s squirrels, bunnies, other dogs running around. That’s later—that’s six months to a year.

Then you can start to incorporate distractions, because they have the capacity in their brain to hold on to a behavior. “Okay. I know what sit stay is, I really want to chase that rabbit, but I’ve done this a thousand times now. I can do it.”

It’s just the natural development of a dog.

Success with A Little a Day Keeps the Dog Trainer Away

Charlie Hoehn: Yeah. I’m curious, what has been your favorite transformation that you’ve seen, I know you’ve trained thousands of dogs but do any of them really stand out as shining examples of these ideas put into practice?

Tom Roderick: Be kind of selfish here, maybe brag a little bit, but every dog that I owned, my development kind of gets a little bit better. I become a little bit more aware and tuned in with dogs. So the most recent dog that I have, I mentioned her a lot in the book, is Twitch. She’s a Belgian Malinois, but I’ve followed the examples in the book to a T, and I swear, she’s borderline perfect.

Unfortunately, most of the people that I work with have not followed these steps all, which is the reason why I wrote this book. People always call me after the fact.

“Here’s what you do before so you don’t have to call me.”

I’ve had some pretty amazing stories of dogs doing incredible things, turning around from pretty sophisticated behaviors of reactivity and aggression dominance, things like that.

Charlie Hoehn: I want to ask you a personal question. My dog pulls on the leash like crazy, she’s a mini border collie, and she’s got tons of energy. Do you have any recommendations for making it a little more manageable?

Tom Roderick: Yeah, food is huge. If your dog works for food, you’re golden. So the number one thing is to cultivate a food drive so that your dog will work for food. After that, you bring out big guns—chicken, cheese, hotdogs, bacon—and always do the training before the dog has eaten. So what’s your dog’s name?

Charlie Hoehn: Ruby.

Tom Roderick: So before Ruby eats, you are going to take some good stuff, chicken that you made the night before or bacon from that morning, and you are going to start to teach her to check in as you are walking. When you start to walk, you can show her that you have a piece of food, maybe even give it to her a little bit and start to reward her for any eye contact or head turns that she gives you. Give her a piece of food.

If you can space it out to five, seven seconds as you are walking, you should start to condition an automatic check in every few seconds, which is really what heel or lose leash walking is.

This doesn’t even have to be from A to B.

“You don’t have to do from this place to that place.”

You can just do this in your backyard and do zigzag and circles and just walk around on leash.

Have a handful of chicken, put it behind your back every five to seven seconds. Give your dog a piece of food and see how she responds to that.

That’s the best place to start, because if you haven’t tried that, there is no reason to complicate things and try different leashes and different collars and things like that. Just start with the basics and then once you maximize on that you consider taking another step.

A Challenge for Listeners

Charlie Hoehn: Let’s wrap up here with a challenge that you can give our listeners, maybe what is one thing, one tool that they might be able to use this week from your book that can have a positive impact on their life and their dog’s life.

Tom Roderick: I will have to challenge people to just do one training session a day. Pick a very simple goal. I want my dog to blank. Sit, lay down, go to their bed, walk by another dog without pulling the leash. Really focus on making that a reality within a week.

The way I want people to do it is what I just explained to you. Withhold their breakfast until they have done the training, and take a very high value treat item. I love chicken, it’s lean. It really drives dogs crazy. It is good for them, they can eat a lot of it without getting sick.

Use that as your primary reinforcer to get them interested in what you are trying to get them to do. I think people would be really surprised to see how the dog responded if they worked with them when they are hungry and if you work with them with a very valuable piece of food.

Charlie Hoehn: Perfect and what is the best way for our listeners to either connect with you or follow you?

Tom Roderick: So I have walkywalk.com. I have my info on there, people can shoot me an email. You can give me a call or shoot me a text, whatever is convenient but that’s the best way.