Obedience training for your pets
by SAM HYER
When your “fur child” is about six months old, it is time to begin a program of more advanced obedience training. You need to put aside some time for training each and every day. Plan on spending half an hour each day to work with your dog—15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening is the normal routine.
You will need a collar for your dog for training and obedience work. There are many schools of thought on which collar to use, almost as many as there are trainers. I am going to discuss the choke collar in this article. Ask your trainer—and (or) with the assistance of your veterinarian—which collar is correct for your “paw-ticular” pet. Each breed is as varied as the products the pet store sells. Some cannot tolerate metal “choke”-type training collars, as they can be easily injured internally. Before following this or any potentially harmful task with your pet, contact a professional that knows your pet.
Never leave a metal choke collar on your pet. It can snag on something and choke your dog. Always have a nylon or leather collar for regular wear with a “ticket home” attached (a name tag). Many well-meaning people hesitate to use a choke collar for fear it will hurt their pet. But used correctly, a choke collar is a safe and humane training aid. Choke collars are designed to tighten quickly and then release, acting as a correction to the dog. This will not hurt your pet, but it will momentarily throw him off balance and get his attention so you can redirect to appropriate behaviors or teach new ones.
The correct method to put on a choke collar is to stand on his right side and slip the collar over his head, making sure that the ring you will attach to the leash is at the top of his neck. When used correctly, the choke collar will release itself the instant you relieve pressure on the leash.
Another item you need is a leash. Buy a narrow leash about five feet in length.
Finally, you will need lots of patience. Remember, a dog learning the basics of obedience is a lot like children learning the basics of math and English. Your baby wants to please you, but only through patient repetition and teaching will he learn what you expect and what your various voice commands and hand signals mean.
Because no two people handle a dog the same way, you will need to decide who is going to do the training and then stick with that one person. Usually the person best suited to train the dog is the one who spends the most time with him.
Once your dog has been trained by one family member, he will work well for the rest of the family. But if more than one person tries to train him, he may become difficult to handle. He may get confused, frustrated and give up, just as humans who receive too much stimulation or requests from too many beings at one time.
Another important thing to teach your dog is to walk on a leash at your heel. The simple word you use is “heel.” Begin by getting your dog in the heel position; he should sit by your left side, with his right shoulder in line with your left knee. He should also be sitting straight; no lazy slouches allowed.
Hold the end of the leash in your right hand, and then hold it further down, closer to your dog, with your left hand. Keep your right hand near your diaphragm, all the while holding the leash against your chest. Make sure the leash is loose; never heel a dog with a tight leash. A tight leash will make any dog angry and resentful, while a loose leash and an occasional correction will allow him to relax and enjoy the experience.
Now, in a firm, pleasant but not loud voice, give the heel command. Say, “Benny, heel.” Always say the dog’s name first to get his attention, and then give the command. Immediately after giving your command, begin to walk with your dog at your side.
At first your dog will probably decide he doesn’t want anything to do with this heeling business and will try to go his own way, either by lagging behind or striding out ahead of you. You will need to correct him immediately with a quick, firm jerk on the leash with your left hand, accompanied by another firm “heel.” By only correcting at the time of the incorrect behavior will you shape the correct behavior for this command.
When you carefully jerk the leash—this is a quick snap action, not a tight pulling action—the choke collar will momentarily tighten, pulling the dog slightly off balance and back to your side where he belongs.
Continue to walk along for about 30 to 40 feet, correcting only when your dog strays, and praising him in a soothing, fairly high-pitched voice when he heels nicely. Then make an about turn, pivoting to the right on both feet, and head back in the opposite direction. Give the heel command again when you do this, and give a quick jerk to the leash to correct him when/if he fails to follow you.
Your pup may bump into your knees during left turns, but if he is paying attention to you, as he should be, he will soon learn to stay out of your way and avoid being bumped.
Sometimes a dog will consistently lag behind his handler. He may be shy or he could be lazy. In either case, you need to encourage him often to keep up, either by slapping your leg with your hand or talking to him in an encouraging and soothing voice.
Once your dog has learned to heel with precision, you can begin holding the leash in your left hand only.
Next time we will discuss sitting at heel. Give your dog an “Atta pup” from Nana Sam.
Sam Hyer is owner of Hyer Luv Kennel and Groomers, Mid Michigan Cocker Rescue founder, ISCC life member, Rockford Chamber of Commerce member, American Boarding Kennel Association (Pet Care Services Association) member, guest speaker and lecturer on companion animal topics throughout the country, proud breeder of Oprah’s first cocker Solomon, behavior consultant, parent, grandparent and pet mom. Sam may be reached at 874-DOGS (3647) or firstname.lastname@example.org.