Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How To Get Your Dog To Behave At The Dog Park

I can't begin to count the amount of times I've seen well meaning dog owners take their best friend to the off leash park only to leave in anger when their fun loving pooch doesn't listen. A trip to the dog park takes prep work with obedience skills and requires a great deal of control without a leash.

One of the many reasons positive training is a great choice for pet owners is because the focus is teaching your dog to listen without any contact! I don't have to correct my dogs with a snap of the leash to get them to sit, down, stay, come, etc so when their leashes are off I still have the same control. 
Nothing will replace taking working directly with a trainer to get your dog off leash ready but here's a few tips to help out the wonderful dog owners who want to give their dogs freedom and some play time. 

Teach your recall word on leash to start:  practice calling your dog clearly in the house. "Rover come" or "Rover here" and reward with an awesome treat. Back up a few steps and start again. What you're doing is building a positive association with your recall word. You need to start in a place with no distractions and practice over and over. Do not repeat your word. If your dog doesn't come try running backwards, clapping your hands or squeaking a toy. The idea is to teach your dog to come when you say the word the first time. 

Up the Ante: Grab a leash or long line (a piece of rope about 20 feet long with a secure clip) and head out to a small, non-busy park. Practice your recall word and make it fun. Use toys, great treats and lots of praise. Slowly incorporate practice sessions to busier and busier locales. 

Ready for Off Leash? Try off leash practice in a small, fenced park to start. Baseball diamonds work well! Also invite your friends to come and practice with their dogs to add distractions. Once you have a dog that is responding quickly and reliably try taking your dog to the dog park. Time your recall for moments when you know he/she will be successful. If your dog is ignoring snap the leash on and head home. 

Key tips for long term success:
1. Always ensure that recall is something fun for your dog and reward it!
2. Never call your dog when the fun is over (aka only calling when you leave the park or for bath time, etc)
3. Bring tasty treats with you but also incorporate toys and games so your dog learns that you are also fun
4. Don't forget to keep practicing, this skill is too important to not keep fresh and reliable

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The True Value of Obedience Skills

I've always thought of obedience training as crucial to having a polite, well mannered family dog. As a dog sports competitor obedience is also a set of skills that dogs need to master to a very specific criteria. This month however, obedience skills had another use in my home.

Tank, my 4 year old Australian Shepherd has been suffering from a slight tear in his cruciate ligament. After months of osteopathy and kennel rest it became apparent that he needed surgery to recovery from this injury. After several weeks of preparation (DAP, setting up "stations" around the house for him and getting rid of some excess weight) Tank was ready for his big day. He came through the surgery without cause for concern but we still had an arduous journey ahead of us.

Our wonderful vet, Dr.Barlow from Okotoks Animal Clinic told us bluntly from that start that he was responsible for 30% of the success but the other 70% comes from rest, physio and proper management of his recovery. Tank began 3 months of kennel rest with limited exercise and no contact with our 2 other dogs.

Limited exercise meant that Tank needed to spend his days in an exercise pen or kennel. Thanks to kennel training throughout his life he was able to adjust to this without pause. He has always associated his kennel and pen with a nice bed, good toys and wonderful treats. It also meant that on Tank's short 3 to 5 minute walks he needed to be under control. Of course a formal heel comes into play here. This high energy, happy go lucky dog was no longer getting off leash time so he was a bundle of excitement on walks. We used the formal heel to keep focus on the handler, ignore distractions such as other dogs, squirrels and rabbits as well as to keep him from putting excess pressure on his healing knee.

The work didn't stop there. Tank gets regular cuddle sessions throughout the day to ease his mind and of course keep him happy. The dog can't get enough love to save his life! So Tank began to get "special" treatment. He was allowed to have one on one time on the couch or the bed while I enjoyed a book or tv show. This meant that Tank needed a stay so that he wouldn't jump off the furniture and injure himself. This stay included distractions such as family members coming home, doorbells and strange noises. Luckily Tank has long ago mastered the stay and could safely hang out on the couch or bed without cause for concern.

Never doubt the benefits of obedience training. You never know when you will need these skills in real life. Tank's handle-ability also allowed for x-rays to be taken without him having to be sedated. There are numerous uses for obedience and I can't imagine going through this surgery and recovery without these skills.