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The Importance of Training Your Dog to be Obedient

By: Dr. Ilana Reisner

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Though obedience training provides your dog the necessary skills to be a good canine citizen, have you balked at the idea of formal obedience training? If so, perhaps it is because you feel that your pet is your precious companion, an important member of your family - a friend, rather than a creature to dominate and control. This sentiment, while admirable, should not inhibit well-meaning owners from pursuing training for their furry companions.

Obedience training is, in fact, critical when it comes to nurturing a healthy human-animal relationship and creating a socially compatible pet. The basic elements - sit, down, stay, come, and heel - help produce a good canine citizen. In a practical sense, obedience-trained dogs have an easier lives, and are easier to live with, than their untrained peers. If dogs desist from 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 other public places, and will spend less time alone at home.

Dogs taught to lie down on the arrival of visitors - after barking a greeting or alarm - are more likely to be included in the dinner party and less likely to wind up isolated in the garage or basement. Obedience training is an education in good manners that, almost literally, opens many doors for otherwise confined dogs. Rather than thinking of obedience training as a series of pointless rituals, think of it as a tool to help dogs cope in the real world.

Training Can Be Positive and Fun

When training is positive and fun, both you and your dog can enjoy the process as well as the results. To teach your dog anything new, the task must hold some kind of reward when successfully completed. It's unrealistic to imagine that your dog will perform a task simply because it pleases you – though some do seem particularly eager to please. For less owner-oriented dogs, even petting may not be a potent enough reward, especially when the dog is excited and would rather cavort than be petted by you, his momentary obstacle.

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

Obedience Classes

If you're inexperienced in dog training, consider enrolling your dog in a formal class (puppies can join "kindergartens" or pre-novice classes). An interesting evolution in thinking often occurs when people join training classes. Though folk may sign up for just one class -typically eight weeks of classes - they enjoy the experience so much that they often re-enroll for the next level of training, and then the next. In fact, it's not uncommon for puppy owners to continue their joint learning experiences for years - even entering local matches or competitions - because training classes are such fun for both the owner and the dog.

Most basic obedience classes - typically at the "novice" or "pre-novice" level - include the basic exercises: "sit," "down," "stay," "come" (or "recall") and "heel." Each command plays an important role in day-to-day communication between people and their dogs. An experienced instructor can help guide you with issues such as timing of rewards when your dog "listens" and the best way to respond when he doesn't listen. Even your facial expression and 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 dealing with behaviors unrelated to obedience competition, such as jumping up, dropping objects on command, and controlled walking (without a formal "heel"). There may also be aspects involving proper socialization, and short lectures on other relevant topics, in addition to basic training. Obedience classes often have their own culture that is shared between the attendants, all other people who love their dogs as much as you do.

Applying What You've Both Learned

Remember to use and practice exercises after you've earned them. Your dog may be "staying" beautifully while in class, but he may 'act deaf' in other environments. So, help him practice - in your home, back yard, near playgrounds, and in crowded shopping plazas. Apply the skills you and he have worked so hard to master, so that he can join you everywhere and be the companion you always knew he could be. After all, obedience exercises are meant to be a dance for two.

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