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Obedience Training Philosophies: What Kind Is Best for Your Dog?

By: Dr. Ilana Reisner

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Obedience training is basically an education in good manners. And, just as it's more pleasant to be around well-mannered people, so a well-behaved dog is more warmly welcomed than his overactive, aggressive canine cousin.

In fact, obedience training is critical in nurturing the most positive aspects of human-animal relationship. Its basic elements - sit, down, stay, come and heel - help shape a good canine citizen.

Obedience-trained dogs have an easier life than their untrained peers. If they resist jumping up on strangers, sit or lie quietly when asked, and walk politely on lead, they're bound to spend more time with their owners going to picnics, ballparks and dinner parties. So, instead of thinking of a training program as a series of empty rituals, think of an education that will assist your dog coping in the real world.

Obedience Classes

If you're inexperienced with training, consider enrolling your dog in a formal class (puppies can join "kindergartens" or pre-novice classes).

Most basic obedience classes - typically at the "novice" or "pre-novice" level - include the basic exercises: "sit," "down," "stay," "come" and "heel." Each plays an important role in day-to-day communication between people and their dogs – improving pups' manners even and their safety.

An experienced instructor can help guide you through issues, such as the timing of rewards when your dog "listens" and the best way to respond when he doesn't listen. Even your facial expressions or body posture can affect your dog's performance - subtle influences that you may not be able to detect without the help of a trainer.

In some classes, time is also devoted to exercises and behaviors such as: jumping up, dropping objects on command, and controlled walking (without a formal "heel"). There may be socialization exercises and short lectures on relevant topics in addition to the training.

An interesting evolution in thinking often occurs when people join training classes. Though they may have signed up for just one class - typically eight weeks of training - they enjoy the experience so much that they often re-enroll for the next level of training, and then the next.

To teach your dog anything new, the successfully completed task must result in some kind of reward. It's unrealistic to imagine that your dog will perform a task simply because it pleases you – though some do seem particularly keen to satisfy their owners. But petting a dog may not be enough for some critters, especially for those excited dogs who would rather cavort than be petted by you, their momentary obstacle.

In order to convince your dog that training exercises are fun, consider what he'll work hardest for. For many dogs, the most compelling reward is a small piece of delicious food, such as breakfast cereal or freeze-dried liver. Others work for petting or praise.

Applying What You've Both Learned

Remember to use and practice exercises after you've been taught them. Your dog may "stay" beautifully in class, but may "act deaf" in other environments. So, help him practice - in your home, the backyard, near playgrounds and crowded shopping plazas. If you keep after him, he'll remember to apply the skills he's mastered in any circumstance, and will become the companion you always knew he could be.

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