Back to School – for Doggie, Too

It’s that time again – time to put the new school supplies in the new backpacks and send your children back to school. You know school is important for your children; how else would they learn? But as you grapple with your dog, as you’re tugged around the neighborhood at the other end of his leash, or as you spend even more time trying to keep him from jumping on your guests, maybe you should consider sending your pet to “school,” too.

Obedience-trained dogs have an easier life than their untrained peers. Dogs that sit or lie quietly when asked will probably wind up spending more time with you. Dogs taught to lie down on the arrival of visitors (after barking their warnings or greetings) are less likely to be isolated in the garage during a dinner party. Dogs that walk politely on lead are bound to spend more time going for walks.

Obedience training is basically an education in good manners. In fact, obedience is critical in nurturing the human-animal relationship. Its basic elements – sit, down, stay, come and heel – help shape a good canine citizen.

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 developing the day-to-day vocabulary between people and dogs – improving a pup’s manners even as it increases his safety.

An experienced instructor can help guide you with issues such as the timing of rewards when your dog “listens” and the best way to respond when he doesn’t. Even your facial expression or body posture can affect your dog’s performance – subtle influences that you may not appreciate without of the input of a knowledgeable trainer.

In some classes, time is also devoted to preventing unwanted behaviors such as jumping up, teaching dogs to drop objects on command, and having them walk on a loose lead (without a formal “heel”). Information may also be provided about correct socialization practices and other relevant topics, in addition to basic training.

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

To teach your dog anything new, the task must proffer some kind of reward when completed. It’s unrealistic to assume that every dog will perform a task simply because it wants to please its owner, though some are driven this way. Simply petting a dog may not be sufficient reward for some individuals, especially excited ones that would rather cavort with their buddies than be petted by a well-meaning owner. Rewards should be selected according to each dog’s particular penchant.

In order to convince your dog that training exercises are fun, consider what he’ll work hard to attain. For most dogs, the most compelling reward is a small piece of food, such as breakfast cereal, a thin slice of hotdog, or freeze-dried liver.

Applying What You’ve Both Learned

Remember to use and practice exercises after they’ve been learned. Your dog may “stay” beautifully while in class, but may act as if he’s deaf in other environments. So, help him practice – in your home, in the backyard, near playgrounds, and even in crowded shopping plazas. If you keep after him, he’ll remember to apply the skills he’s mastered, and be the companion you always knew he could be.