The art of teaching obedience is overlooked by many dog owners and sportsmen, resulting in an unsatisfactory relationships and missed opportunities for years of pleasure.
Few will disagree that there is nothing more disturbing than an unruly dog that refuses the commands – “ here,” “ sit” and “heel.” Such disobedience often results in injury or death to a dog and confounds the peacefulness of a day afield. These simple and basic commands are easily taught with a little patience and practice.
Handlers and trainers generally agree on methods and time involved. All say start early when a pup is about seven weeks old with simple and short daily lessons from 5 to 10 minutes. Trainers also agree that rarely is a dog too old to learn obedience.
Penny Leigh, who works in the American Kennel Club’s Raleigh office, manages the AKC Good Dog Helpline, a seven-day a week telephone service staffed by dog trainers who provide advice on dog issues.
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“Dogs should first learn that paying attention to their owners is rewarding,” she said, “because without attention on their owners, they can’t learn the commands…”
She grabs a dog’s attention (eye contact) with a treat and praise.
“…for sit, I hold the treat about an inch or so above the dog’s nose and then slowly move my hand back over the dog’s head until he rocks into the sit position. At that time I mark it with a clicker or my marker word – ‘yes or good’ – and reward.”
For “down,” Leigh sits a dog then holds a treat near his nose, moving it slowly down between the dog’s front legs, at the same time saying “down”
Using a long line and with treats or toys, she teaches “come” or “here.”
“I show the toy or treat and then I run backwards. When the dog follows and reaches me, they get rewarded richly for doing so. When the dog is doing this consistently, I start using the command word…”
Kim Parkman of Sumter, S.C., trains and handles sporting dogs for the field and conformation ring. She describes her methods as “old school.” She uses a choke chain, long line and heeling stick when the dog reaches several months of age.
“Dogs learn by repetition,” she said. “So it’s a good idea to regularly refresh obedience commands.”
Parkman relies “loosely” on the Koehler method for obedience training. The late William Koehler was renowned for training dogs for movies, dog clubs and the military.
In his writings, Koehler says that to teach “here,” command the dog then pull in the long line hand over hand. He recommends performing this procedure 10 times per day until learned.
When first getting the dog familiar with the long line, Koehler uses no command and does not jerk the line. Instead, he ignores the dog and walks to a definite spot, creating a square with corners 50 feet apart. The dog soon learns to pay attention to the handler.
“Heeling,” he says, involves walking the dog on lead by the handler’s side. If the dog forges ahead, the handler makes an abrupt right turn and walks fast in the opposite direction. He cautions to only give the command “heel” once and not to tug on the lead. For a left turn, the handler moves sharply into the dog. For a right, the handler takes a long and rapid step to the right.
Jim Elam, a professional retriever handler in Warrenton, takes on 12 to 15 dogs annually for basic obedience training. He spends five to seven weeks with each dog, bringing in the owners several times to learn proper techniques.
“Anybody can do it if they’ve got the patience,” he said. “You must learn to establish yourself as pack leader by enforcing every command given. Don’t give a command you can’t enforce.”
His tools of the trade include a pinch collar, long lead, crop and electric collar for light reinforcement.
Bill Hillmann, a well known trainer and handler from Texas, provides training DVDs and conducts seminars across the country. He emphasizes making training fun for the dog and handler. He prefers not to raise his voice or punish a dog.
“Always have pup on a line so you are in control,” he said. “Without it, the pup’s in control. Your praise is the reward rather than food. Once a dog knows a command such as “sit,” reinforce it with a tug upward on the line.
“Never stop building trust, teaching and socializing with your dog,” he said. “The process never comes to an end. It’s only the beginning of a great adventure for you and your dog.”