Issue 9.41: Cover Story
April 06, 2006
One of the most rewarding relationships you can have is with your dog. At best, your canine friend provides companionship, unconditional affection and protection, as well as seat-warming, feet-cleaning and garbage disposal services. If only all relationships could offer as much!
But if you go through obedience training with your dog—as you should—you may unexpectedly get something else. This kind of behavior modification means that you become skilled at asking for and getting what you want.
Recently, I attended a six-week, Maui Humane Society dog-training course, led by instructor Kinee Hanson. In her lessons, Hanson gave tips to facilitate the consistent success of basic commands to give your dog. She emphasized patience, having a positive attitude, rewarding for good behavior, and the importance of training chains and scooping your own poop—valuable concepts for any relationship.
In fact, as I went through Hanson's class, I was struck by how her instructions to owners concerning their dogs translated to, well, let's just say other kinds of relationships. Don't believe me? As you read the following, try swapping the word "dog" with other terms like "son," "boss," "lover," etc. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
General Canine Psychology
When it comes to rewards, use whatever motivates your dog the most, be it praise, food or a toy. Do not over-praise (causes a hyper-active response) or under-praise (does not motivate). Your dog will quite naturally resist your initial attempts to control him, but once you have learned to communicate your leadership, he will accept and obey you willingly…
We often think of pets as our children. But dogs are pack animals. On their level, there is no equality—only dominance and submission. It is our job to not only establish a bond and trust, but also control. And part of this entails communicating clearly what we need and when.
When you set the tone, your dog will synchronize with your tone. Anger and frustration have no place in the relationship; patience is key.
Walking on a Leash
Use a slack leash; you cannot control your dog if the leash is tight. Complete attention on the handler is a goal—do not watch the dog continually, he should be watching you. Move at a brisk pace; this encourages attention and enthusiasm from your dog…
When walking, turn in the opposite direction of where your dog wanders off so that his attention comes back to you. Don't show your dog uncertainty. Walk with decisiveness—let your dog know you have control.
"The more you look forward," says Hanson, "the more your dog will look at you. The more you look at your dog, the less he'll pay attention to you."
You set the direction and the pace. If they walk ahead of you, reverse your direction. If your dog stops to sniff, keep going and he has to catch up. Different temperaments will dictate which approach is best. If your dog is rambunctious, be a drill sergeant. If they are timid, sweet-talk them.
Sit & Automatic Sit
A dog's hearing is seven times more accurate than ours; there's no reason to repeat the command. Be calm, clear and firm. Do not use your dog's name with a negative tone. If your dog does not sit, correct by gently pressing down on his hindquarters…
The "sit" command can be awkward for most untrained dogs. Yet it seems to be the one every owner works first. This is your dog's initial experience following a worded instruction so don't expect them to be able to translate right away.
"Remember their brains don't work as quickly as we do," says Hanson. "You gotta give 'em a second to think, and then do it."
She also advises the use of treats—it changes their demeanor immediately.
Down & Control Center
Give the verbal command, "Down" low and firm. When your dog goes down, praise immediately and calmly with "Good Down," as you give the food reward. If your dog does not go down on command, correct him off balance so that he does not resist your correction…
A "control center" is a comfortable place your dog will go willingly and lie down. If you train your dog to obey the "down" command in this area, it negates the need for him to be banished outside or to another room.
Do not get pushy with this command. Encourage your dog to stay down by giving quiet praise and petting slowly. Everything is about calmness, being placid.
"If it's just for the treat initially," says Hanson, "well, that's wonderful that they're doing it at all."
Sit-Stay, Down-Stay & Wait
As you and your dog become more confident, slowly start to increase the amount of time you ask him to stay, as well as increasing the distance you move from him. Be patient and move slowly, but with confidence. Once your dog knows the down-stay well, he should be tested around distractions…
From two-minute sit-stays to out-of-sight, long period down-stays, the stay command is about full-on control and authority. And for your dog, it's probably the least fun to practice. Be persistent and firm, stand upright and use eye contact. One thing your dog must understand is that you are more stubborn than they are.
Walk towards your dog when breaking or releasing from the stay command. Give praise, but don't overdo it.
This is not a command you will be good at in a week. You might be good at it in a year… maybe. But if you find yourself using a lot of correction, you are not using your building block correctly.
Use a long line and real meat treats for optimal motivation. This is an opportunity you give your dog to be loose. Do you trust them?
Don't chase your dog. You're not as fast and they know that. You want your dog to come quickly and in a straight line. But as long as they're coming, it's okay. Use tons of enthusiasm.
Do not become aggressive by tone or attitude during this particular command; when we do, we expect that our dog will run up to us but we wouldn't if we were in the same situation. Initially, you can say anything you want to get your dog to come to you. But do not welcome their approach with anything negative.
If your dog doesn't come at first, get low to the ground and act playful, or run away. Dogs love to play chase. Don't chase your dog, but it's perfectly okay to entice our dog to chase you. Play hide-and-seek and they'll check up on you—make them understand that you can disappear if they're not paying attention.
Keep a smile on your face. Be positive. This command can be a tough one.
"Dogs are creatures of habit," says Hanson. "Yes, they're coming just for the food—that's why we're using it. We're creating a pattern of behavior. That's what dog training is all about."
The next six-week session of MHS dog training classes will start Apr. 10. The fee is $110, with a $50 discount if the dog was adopted from Maui Humane Society. For more info, call 877-3680. MTW
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