Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Dog training can be done with fun activities, not just repetitive drills
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers has designated January as Train Your Dog Month. Of course, as a dog trainer, I believe that any month is the right time to train your dog, and this week I want to write about some different ways to make training fun and varied for both you and your dog.
Most dog owners think of "basic training" as coming when called, responding to "sit," "lie down" and "stay," and walking on a loose leash. Laying the foundation for these behaviors is simple, but gaining a reliable response - especially for "come" - takes more practice.
Realistically, it takes far more than an eight-week course to teach your dog basic manners. Stopping after just one "foundation" course is equivalent to teaching a child to read "See Spot Run" and ending there. Having a reasonably trained dog generally means attending an intermediate (Level 2), an intermediate-advanced (Level 3) course and "practicing" behaviors (by using them) throughout your dog's life.
I know most dog owners don't want to spend years training the dog, and few people enjoy drilling behaviors repetitively (dogs don't love it either). Fortunately, there are loads of sports and activities for dogs of all ages, sizes, breeds and mixes that provide practice for the responses we want, while offering fun without boring drills. You can enjoy doing a wide variety of things with your dog while at the same time increase your dog's responsiveness and reliability - a win-win for everyone!
Here's a run-down of just a few activities available in many training schools:
. Dog Agility: This is the first widely popular dog sport alongside "obedience." In agility, the dog and handler team negotiate a course with obstacles such as jumps, tunnels, weave poles and an A-frame. The handler directs the dog off leash to run through, around and over the various obstacles in the course. Clearly, dog agility encourages and practices off-leash control - and is great fun for both dog and owner!
. Rally-Obedience: A relatively new dog sport, Rally-O involves the dog and handler team negotiating a course of 12 or more stations. Each station has a sign with a behavior for the team to perform, from simply sitting your dog and walking around him in a circle to sending your dog over a jump and then calling her to you. With more than 60 possible behaviors, Rally-O is always new and different, providing tremendous variety and interest for perfecting the behaviors owners want most.
. Dancing with your dog - also called Canine Musical Freestyle: This is a sport where the handler and dog move together in a choreographed routine to music. Even for the rhythmically challenged, this sport provides a fun, interesting and always varied way to practice fun behaviors such as spin, weave between your legs, move backwards next to your side, stay, come and move together with you-enhancing the partnership and teamwork that we all want with our dogs.
. Using your dog's instincts: There are loads of activities that provide an outlet for our dogs to do the things they love to do. Little is more rewarding than allowing a dog to do what he was born to do - race around a lure course, follow a scent trail, participate in water rescue or other water sports, herd, hunt, and the list goes on. These instinctive activities truly are a gift to our dogs. An Internet search will provide information if you're interested in finding an activity both you and your dog will enjoy.
These are just some of the many things you can do with your dog. For the rest of Train Your Dog Month, and all year-round, train your dog - you'll both love both the activities, the companionship and the results!
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. If you would like a topic addressed in this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.