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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dog training pays big dividends

So much of dog training is about control.

We teach our dogs to control their urges to lunge, and instead walk on a loose leash. We encourage them to control their urge to talk, and keep barking at a minimum. And we introduce many cues that inform the dogs of exactly what we want them to do: Stand still, move away, come to us, etc.

It’s fun to train them, encouraging to see results and enlightening when we discover how brilliant our dogs really are when we learn to communicate with them effectively.
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Occasionally, we are even thrust into scenarios where training is put to the test, when real-life situations occur. I have had three such circumstances arise in as many weeks with Tait.

The first occurred when Tait and I were on a bike run. Tait is attached to a leash and trots beside me as I ride my bike through the neighborhood - a good way to burn energy and keep him in shape. Suddenly, the unmistakable sound of toenails on asphalt caused me to look back to discover a large dog chasing us, and closing in fast. I immediately stopped and dumped my bike as the dog rushed up and body-slammed Tait, grabbing at his cheek.

In the next instant, I pulled the dog off, and cued Tait to sit, which he did!

He remained calm and controlled, and walked politely beside me as I took the loose dog by the collar back to his home.

The second incident happened at a park where I routinely play with Tait. I give him cues and chuck a ball for him to retrieve as a reward each time he responds correctly, which he chases after with great speed and enthusiasm. One such throw took a bad bounce and went into the street, where cars were present. Although he was 30 to 40 yards away from me, I gave a loud "Come!" cue just as Tait hit the sidewalk, and I was relieved to see him spin around, ignoring the ball, and sprint right back to me.

He got a great tug reward for his spot-on response, and I reminded myself that situations such as that one are why I practice the recall nearly every day.

The final real-life test happened at home. My dogs are quite interested in another species that lives with us - the guinea pigs. Tait in particular loves the piggies, but not in a good way. They epitomize the ultimate toy; they move, are soft to chew on and squeak when you do so.

Obviously, the dogs are not allowed direct contact with them, but they never stop trying.

Having recently introduced a new youngster to the herd, I was cleaning out his condo when the little guy jumped out and headed down the hallway.

Tait lost no time in going after him, but took only two steps before I cued him to "WAIT THERE." I must admit that my voice was loud enough to be heard three blocks away, but I nearly panicked!

Thankfully, his training kicked in and Tait immediately slid to a stop. And while I trotted past him to collect my wayward piggy, I’m sure Tait wondered why I chose to exclude him from the "retrieve the squeaky toy" game. He had to suffice himself with a rawhide, immediately delivered to him from his proud and grateful owner.


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