Dog’s Eye View: It’s the little things that count
I’ve had the great joy lately of being a student again. Our little dog, Max, is doing great and fitting into our family really well. So I decided to set some new goals and take his training up a notch. Sandra Kruczek, my co-writer for this column, offered a new class at Colorado Northwestern Community College. It’s called Canine Life and Social Skills. I decided I would take this class with Max. It would set some definitive goals and give us a chance to learn and practice some new skills. And the bonus would be that Max would learn to listen and respond to me in the distracting atmosphere of a group class.
There is a prerequisite to taking the advanced class though. Max needed to complete our family dog class. My husband attended that class with Max just after we adopted him, and he also has done a great job of retaining those skills important in daily interactions with our dog. My husband’s preliminary work with Max set the stage to make my job much easier.
A young couple next to us in class has a handsome Rottweiler that passed the class with honors. I kiddingly told them that when my Min Pin looks in the mirror, he thinks he’s a Rottweiler! Max is a very confident dog.
Each of the families in class had different challenges. Some dogs had great difficulty in “paying attention” in the presence of other dogs, a very common complaint among dog owners.
“He’s great at home, but as soon as he sees another dog, all bets are off!”
It took some time in Max’s first class to acclimate to the close proximity of people and dogs he did not know.
Most of the exercises have progressed nicely. Max learned to focus on me and walk nicely on leash, passing by classroom distractions. He learned to wait patiently (barely) for the food bowl to be placed on the floor before being released to move. He learned to say “hello” to a new person and take treats gently.
We are still working with a one-minute down stay. Max’s first attempt ended after approximately 10 seconds; now, we’re up to 50 seconds with minimal fidgeting. I love watching him figure out that down means down, not scoot backwards or sit up or switch hips. He makes me smile as he tries to figure out exactly why he needs to stay there that long. The patience part of waiting until released is a hard concept for him, but we’ll get there! The gratification of training is that it stays pleasurable for both of us. No matter how long it takes, we’ll get there. He enjoys the training time as much as I do.
And that’s the point! As long as we keep working and making it fun, Max will continue to work and enjoy his time spent with me. I’ve watched his attention improve and his focus and impulse control develop, and he seems quite proud of himself. The paybacks are great. His trust in our relationship and the deference he shows to my leadership is a true gift. I will say I’m earning the bond he so willingly shares.
Training never ends. It deepens our communication and trust as long as we work at a pace that allows learning.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training, LLC, in Northwest Colorado.
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