Last Tuesday, the Dude began his quest to become basically obedient — that is, he had the first session of his six-week basic obedience class.
Although I might have been able to teach the Dude most of the skills covered in a formal class, I knew it would be good for him to learn in a more formal environment and practice being calm around other dogs — a bit of a challenge for the Dude, who gets excited at the sight of another four-legger. Plus, taking two dogs through the basic obedience class is part of my trainer’s training requirement, so the Dude’s participation is a natural fit.
So we headed over to the Center with low expectations — the Doctor’s orders are for the Dude to refrain from participating in any exciting activities for another three weeks due to his heartworm treatment. So we were fully expecting to be parked far from the other seven dogs, in a quiet corner of the field where he would be far from all the excitement. Per our head trainer’s suggestion, we prepared him a kong stuffed with kibble, peanut butter, and cheese to keep him busy and calm during the first half of class, which would be mostly conversation and little activity.
But we shouldn’t have worried. The Dude did a little bit of quiet whimpering as we approached the broad agility field where class would be held, but quickly plopped himself down in the mulch to relax and observe the goings-on, as though he were just lounging on the bed at home. He was a perfect gentleman the rest of the evening, and we were his proud, beaming parents.
The first lesson covered some fundamentals that the Dude
was better than the other dogs at had already been practicing at home, like sitting for food and sitting & relaxing for attention. The latter is especially critical, and we feel so lucky that we made it second-nature years ago with Chick — it seems to not come easily to so many families with dogs. The basic principle is this: we should be giving our dogs attention for displaying behaviors we like (sitting quietly and calmly, for example), and ignoring the behaviors we don’t like (jumping and barking, for example). It’s easy to be tempted to push a dog away when he jumps, or say “Doodlebug, NO!” or “quiet!” when he barks for attention. But in doing this, we’re actually giving the dog exactly what he wants. To a dog — especially a pushy one — attention means being looked at, talked to, or touched — doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative in our eyes. If we are consistent, a dog can quickly learn that barking will not earn him that treat, and jumping will not get the visitor to look at him. The behavior will eventually extinguish. For dogs whose unsavory habits are long-ingrained, it can take some time. For dogs who are just learning the rules from scratch, change happens pretty quickly.
The Dude was lucky to learn this from scratch in our home. It’s our hypothesis that he had never been trained at all before living with us, so in his mind, there were no rules. Lucky us: within three days of coming into our home, Dude was consistently planting his butt firmly on the ground and looking at us with those giant doe eyes of his when he wanted a pet or a scratch, not punching us with his paws or face or barking obnoxiously.
The first week’s homework? Practicing sits and releases in progressively more challenging locations in / around the house, sitting for the food bowl, and tiedown approaches. The Dude aced ‘em all.
Stay tuned next week for an update on tonight’s session two!