Sunday, August 24, 2008

Should you take your dog to obedience training?

Yep - I firmly believe it. But I didn't always think so.

Before I knew better I thought that taking a dog to obedience school would turn them into some kind of robot or something - that they'd lose their personalities. But I couldn't have been more wrong.

I don't know what caused me to take Suzie - maybe the fact that the classes were being held only a few miles away, or maybe because so many in animal rescue were going and it suddenly sounded like fun.

It did turn out to be fun, and while I enjoyed it, Suzie absolutely loved it! She would get so excited when we drove up to the building where classes were held that she could hardly contain herself. Wiggling all over, whining to get out... she couldn't wait to get to class!

We enjoyed it so much that we took the advanced class and she earned a "Canine Good Citizen Certificate." Then we took the agility class - and she thought jumping was so much fun that when I walked over to a table to look at new leashes she jumped right up on the table to help me!

The best part, of course, is that I now know how to communicate better with her, and she now minds better. It really is a safety issue to be sure your dog knows to come when called, to "leave it," and to sit and wait when told. She slips now and then, of course, and we do need to do refreshers once in a while.

Classes were no longer available when we got Pepper, but I had learned enough with Suzie's classes to transfer some of it to him. So tonight when I let him out of the car and he headed straight for the neighbor's cat he stopped as soon as I hollered "leave it." It feels pretty nice to be able to maintain neighborly relations that way.

Obedience trainers say that dog obedience school really is for the humans more than for the dogs. When we learn to be clear in our requests - and when we learn not to give one command with our voice and a different one with our body language, our dogs are much happier. They do, after all, want to please us.

If you can't get to a class, get a good book and study. Just remember to take it one step at a time so you don't frustrate yourself or your dog.

If you do take a class, be sure to listen - I was always amazed in class when the instructor told us to praise behavior with the name of the good behavior, but otherwise intelligent people didn't listen. When your dog sits on command, your role is to say "Good sit" several times and make them understand that what they just did was wonderful. But a good percentage of the humans couldn't get it. They kept right on with "Good dog" or "Good Hector."

Oh, one more thing. The classes we took were reward based and worked wonderfully. But I've heard of trainers who use fear based and punishment based methods. Maybe those are the ones that turn your dog into a robot with no personality. I wouldn't be surprised.

Here's to happy canines!

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