Training

Show ’em who’s boss – Obedience Training 101

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I love my dogs – I tell myself so at least three times a day.

Who's In charge? Dog pulling owner on lead.
Rather than me walking the dogs, the dogs were walking me.

When, for example, they jump on my work clothes and leave muddy paw prints that tell everyone just how much they missed me in the five minutes they were outside to potty. Or, when we are “walking” and they are barking at every blade of grass, butterfly, or gust of wind while attempting to pull my arm from its socket.

Yes, I dearly love my dogs.

You might have read my last blog post (from a few months back – lazy me!) where I raved over how cute they were (while sleeping) and expressed my enthusiasm for training at home. Right. Three weeks after we started learning “sit” we were still working on it and decided we really needed reinforcements.

After shots galore and a quick trip to the S.N.I.P. clinic, we enrolled ourselves in obedience training at Shamrock Acres Training Center here in Louisville.

On our first night, Zeus, as you can probably imagine, was barking and growling at everyone and everything, pacing back and forth and jumping on us. Basically, showing off just how untrained he was. Mom and I are desperately trying to calm him down and get him to sit still, when this woman calmly walks over and sprays Zeus in the face with water, saying “Stop. Stop it.”

Meet Ms. Nancy.

I won’t bore you too much with details of the training itself. That’s not my intention here. I do, however, want to express a few of the benefits we have already begun to see from our short two weeks of obedience classes.

Socialization
Training at home is fine and dandy if you can be consistent about it. Chances are your dog will do exactly want him to do – as long as you are at home and no other dogs or people are around.
Going to a training school will give your dog the opportunity to meet other dogs and people and will send a message that you still expect the rules to be followed when there are others present.
Zeus, for example, has learned it is not okay to bark at others and, he still has to listen to me despite distractions.
My sister’s dog Gunner, on the other hand, has not learned this lesson. I work with him at home and he forgets what we are doing to bark at the neighbors. It may not sound like much, but I notice the difference.

Guidance
It’s easy to read a training book and think you know exactly what to do, but obedience is just as much about training the owner as it is training the pet. Having someone to point out areas that need improvement or things you are doing well is great. I, for one, don’t always notice when I am reinforcing a bad behavior in the dogs. A good example – when trying to get Zeus to stop barking we tried calming him by stroking his head and using a soothing tone of voice. Ms. Nancy pointed out that this was reinforcing the behavior, telling Zeus that if he barks we are going to pet him. She showed us how to correct the behavior properly.

Linda, the primary trainer at Shamrock,  is great about letting us know what we’re doing well, reminding us to praise our dogs, something that’s easy to forget. She also helps us learn when it is appropriate to feed treats and when not to.

It is also wonderful to have someone to answer questions. I wanted to know why my dog showed progress at home, but not at the training site. I could  Google it (for the record, I love Google), but I know I can trust Linda’s answer because she has over 35 years of experience training dogs. I know I can trust Nancy’s answer – I may not be able to trust Bob C. from Anywhere U.S.A.’s answer that I come across on an Internet search.

Accountability
There are days when I don’t want to do anything. When I get home from a long day at work and just want to crash, the last thing I want to add to my to-do list is training the dogs. If I were training by myself at home, there would be no one to hold me accountable for that.
Linda has set a timeline for us. She told us that we and our dogs will have to perform, off lead, in just a few more weeks. She expects progress from us, and to get that, we have to work with the dogs 10-15 minutes every day. I don’t want to be the owner of the one dog who, after three weeks, still cannot “sit stay.”

There are many other reasons why training classes are great, even if you know the drill and have been through it before. A couple of things to keep in mind when choosing a trainer include:
– How much experience does the trainer have. Were they trained in a six-week course, two weeks ago? That might not be ideal for your situation.
– Have you heard of them before? Ask around – friends, family, co-workers – who did they use? What was their experience? Would they recommend who you have in mind?
– How much does it cost? There are a number of options out there. Retail stores, like Petsmart, might have a name, but can be more expensive with less-experienced trainers. The Humane society offers classes too, but may have age restrictions or limited classes available when you want them.  I’m not saying that these programs are inferior in any way, but they may not be what you need for your pet. Before you enroll, find out if what you’re getting is worth the cost, and if the program fits your needs.

We did a lot of looking and asking around before we chose Shamrock Acres. It has only been two weeks for us, and every day there is a little more progress. I can’t wait for the day I can walk my dog without having to ice my shoulder when I get home.