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.

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.

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.

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.


New Dogs, Old Tricks

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Those who know me know that 6 weeks ago my family and I adopted/rescued two wonderful, adorable puppies. They were three weeks old at the time and could fit in the palm of my hand. (Side note: if possible, never separate puppies from their litter before seven weeks. In our case, neither the mama dog nor the owner could feed the pups – eight in all).

Two sleeping puppies
Awww... so cute and cuddly - but not for long!

They are nine weeks old now and the days of tiny cute and cudliness have long past. These 15 lb balls of energy are all over the place – running, jumping, barking, biting, and don’t let me forget “going.” Our older dog (14 years old to be precise) has given up dodging the puppies and generally stays pretty passive as they both frantically lick his face whenever they are let out.

I love my dogs, don’t get me wrong. The thing is, I am used to a dog who at least pretends (half the time) to care what I say. If I say “sit” he’ll think about it and eventually do it. If I pat my leg, he comes. Not so much with the young rascals.

I know they need training and between 8 weeks and 20 weeks is the ideal time for things like housebreaking and basic obedience. As a broke college student lessons from trained training professionals is a bit beyond my budget, so I’ve hit up the library and a used book store for some ideas (as well as good old Google).

I have a training book called Training Your Puppy in 5 Minutes (Positive Training).  I found mine at a used book store, but you can find it on Amazon for around $10. I love it. It has a ton of background information you need to get ready for a puppy (or used to the one you have) and really easy to follow instructions on basic obedience.

One of the things I have learned from this is that puppies need a schedule. We are crate training ours and it is going wonderfully. As opposed to my older dog – let’s call him B – who whines in his crate. B is not crate trained, so we don’t leave him in unless there is a special case. But I’m working on him slowly. Z and G (the puppies) whine for a bit in their crates, but then they both fall asleep. Ah, the wonders of puppyhood.

On the other hand, B can walk with a leash and harness and the puppies don’t even wear a collar. It is surprising how much I take for granted when it comes to dogs.

Puppy fighting leash
Puppies do not understand leashes. Mine fight the leash like this one does.

They have a schedule they follow and woe unto us if we don’t stick to it. Bissell has great cleaning products for removing pet stains – in case you’re wondering. They know (for the most part) to “go” outside, so it’s time to bump up the difficulty.

Today they practiced the simple command “sit.” I used the five-minute method from the training guide and it worked pretty well. I put all dogs in their crates and took them out one at a time for a little “play training” as it’s called. B was first and although he didn’t really understand what was happening he did his best. It was difficult for me to withhold the treat until he got it right, but I know that’s what needs to be done.

I had the most fun with the puppies. They were so happy to be out that they climbed all over me and chased the hand that held my stash of treats. Eventually they got the hang of following the treat they were offered and did well with “sit.” I’m going to keep working on that for a few days before moving on.

I have read that at 12 weeks they are able to process more.  By then I am guessing they will weigh close to 20 lbs, so I want to make sure they really understand some basic commands by the time they get too big to handle.

For all of you out there with new puppies, or old dogs who need training – I understand your pain. I am learning, however, that patience is more than a virtue – it’s a hard-won battle and not for the faint of heart. I remind myself every ten minutes that it will be worth it when I have the best behaved dogs in the neighborhood (well, I can dream can’t I?)