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.

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