Back to Basics

by Cathy Hughes

The world of the pet dog has certainly experienced a great expansion recently. Twenty-plus years ago, if the “training bug” hit you while attending a pet manners class, the limitations for advanced training included obedience and tracking for the most part. Hunting, herding, lure coursing and Schutzhund were available if you had a talented dog from a specialized breed and you lived near someone who could share his or her expertise in those fields. Nowadays a graduate of a basic obedience class has the choice of going on to agility, freestyle, flyball, rally, Frisbee freestyle … the list is growing as you read this … in addition to the aforementioned sports. There are even some pet dogs that have made it to commercials, print ads or the movies. Classes for all of these disciplines are more readily available than in the past.

Another trend is for pet owners to show an interest in using their dogs and time to help others. There are several licensed therapy dog organizations that one can train and test for. If your dog is of the right temperament and breed and you are a fit person, perhaps training for search and rescue would be your cup of tea.

In order to participate in these more diverse canine pastimes, training methods had to evolve. Common practices prevalent in obedience classes of yesterday may have resulted in a controlled pet, but were not conducive to turning out a dog that could participate in many of the venues we see today. Exposure to scientific learning theory and the early influence of such folks as Karen Prior and John Rogerson are examples of what has enabled pet owners to venture into the world of service and competition. It’s all good so far.

Now let’s take a look at our first pet dog that served to introduce us to the advanced dog activity of our choice. She is getting up in years now, and now it’s time to get a new puppy. We were looking for a good pet when we chose our old friend, but now we have new criteria for choosing a puppy, oftentimes looking for a youngster with more drive and raw talent. Our attitude and training goals have shifted in our desire to prepare our new dog for a more competitive career. This may result in our having a tendency to lighten up on the basics of control and manners in lieu of the more specialized training required for the sport of our choice. This is a mistake.

While we focus on the behaviors needed for the new dog to compete successfully, the behaviors that made our first dog such a pleasure to live with may be overlooked. If this trend is not remedied, we may end up with a talented dog that is hard to live with and does not honor us on the field of competition. If the new dog does not follow our direction, his talent will not have the results we desire.

So it is back to basics for this pup and owner. Training and enforcing leash manners, quick responses to recalls, stays and attention are paramount. Thorough socialization with people, animals and new locations cannot be overlooked. Attending a puppy kindergarten or beginning family dog class will help to keep the owner focused on these training activities. Implementing some level of a no-free-lunch program is indicated, tailored to the temperament of your new star-in-the-making. Enforcing the rules using positive methods will garner good results when paired with the more specialized training your pup is getting. Paying attention to these basics will help to make your dog a good companion with a competitive edge … a combination that is hard to beat!

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