Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Obedience Training as a Core Value

I will say it and stand behind it: Good Dog owners obedience train their dogs.
D-Square and Andretti Ducati in a sit-stay. It was a good 5 minute photo session while the sun went down and I got the lighting. Nobody moved even an inch.
 It's like saying Good Parents teach their children basic manners. A well mannered child is most often enjoyable to spend time with (even if you're not really a 'kid person') A rude and unruly child is a pain in the butt to even be within earshot of for anybody. Same goes for dogs. A well trained dog who respects the obedience rules that are expected of him is very often a pleasure to be around, even if you're not a "dog person", an untrained spoiled fur-child is almost always a pain in the butt for even the most hard-core dog lover to tolerate.

With my dogs I do a lot of 'competition' events.
  • We do Conformation Showing, which I call "Standing and Looking Pretty". Contrary to popular belief, the most successful show dogs MUST have excellent basic obedience skills. They must stand and stay rock solid to be viewed and handled by a complete stranger. They must have excellent leash manners and move fluidly with their handler, they must be in tune with their handler and be able to anticipate what they will be expected to do based sometimes on only the handler's body positioning. A dogs keen attention to it's handler is a valued attribute in the conformation ring.
2 year old Darby Crash (GCh. Aragon Aroi Silver Lining, RA) giving me his full attention in a very busy show ring at the AKC Eukanuba Invitational Dog Show in December 2010

  • We participate in Lure Coursing, which is a test of speed, agility and basic chase instinct. Every dog must be willing to come when called, practice basic leash manners and respect other dogs space. They must play nice with other dogs and be able to control themselves under extreme excitement. 
D-Square (DC Windrock Luck be a Lady Eldomar, FCh.) competing lure coursing in Livermore, CA.
  • We compete in Obedience and Rally trials, both of which test a dog and handlers ability to communicate with each other and respect each others space. Obedience competition is the ultimate test in a dogs ability to follow and respect the commands his handler gives him. The dog must have extreme devotion to reading and understanding his handlers verbal and more often non-verbal cues. Attention is a non-negotiable requirement.  (Actually, K9 Agility is the ultimate test of teamwork and control, but for this write-up we're going to say it's Obedience)
Andretti Ducati (Windrock Sin City Playboy, JC, CD, RA) heeling like a pro during his last leg of Novice competion. He got his CD that day (and stung by a hornet). This was in 2007, he has since retired from Obedience competition.

  • I take my dogs everywhere: into The City (San Francisco), to public markets and fairs, to restaurants (only those that allow dogs), on shopping trips, on road-trips and to so many miscellaneous public venues it's impossible to list them all. Needless to say, impeccable dog manners are absolutely non-negotiable. Whichever dog I take with me into the public's general reach, be it just one or all 4, must be calm, collected and under control at every moment. They cannot bark, shy, lunge, bounce, pull at their leash, invade other dog's or person's personal space, get underfoot, touch/mouth/lick/taste/grab food or objects. They must do what I ask them to do the first time I ask them to do it, without making me constantly repeat the command, raise my voice or pop the leash. They are required to pay attention to me in addition to their socializing, enjoying and observing everything that's going on around them. I know this seems like a lot of stress to put on a dog, but really it's not because all of my dogs have the basics practically laser engraved in their brains.
What are the basics? Well, good question. The 'basics' are probably a little bit different for every dog owner, but for us they consist of a few core-training behaviors, and these are as follows:
  • Sit, Stay
  • Down, Stay.
  • Stand, Stay. 
  • Come
  • Heel
  • Watch or Look: to get the dog to make eye contact and regain his attention
  • Easy: to ask the dog to be calm or slow down
  • Off: to ask the dog to back off or stop a behavior
  • Back it up: to have the dog back up a few steps to give me a little room to move or reposition him
  • Okay: to release the dog from a requested behavior or to allow the dog to follow a behavior he wants to do
Andretti performing the "long sit" in a large mixed class. Nobody is allowed to move in this exercise; no laying down, no investigating your neighbor, basically, no having fun. Just....sitting with the handlers at the other end of the ring. Borrrrrinnnggg.

    We've also added a few non-traditional behaviors for socializing in large crowds:
    • Get close: to get the dog to snug up very tight to my leg as we heel through a large crowd
    • Forge: to have the dog stride out and forge a path close in front of me, single file, usually applicable in a heavy crowd where there's no room directly next to me
    • Leave it: to have the dog damper down or turn off his interest in something he's keen on investigating
    • Go Say Hello: to encourage the dog to greet a stranger in a polite, controlled manner
    And a few for visiting stores/shops that allow dogs:
    • Stay Tight: keeps the dog pivoting with me as we maneuver through a sometimes tight store
    • Back It Up: puts my dog into a voluntary straight back up, again to get out of a tight space in a store where there is literally no room to turn around.
    • Be Small: for when unwitting folks get stompy footed around my dogs, they attempt to become very small and inconspicuous. Andretti has (on his own idea) taken this to mean lay down under a bench or table until the crowd of rude foot-flingers passed by. It worked, and the shop owner was beyond impressed. 
    • No Touch: This means no nose-investigating things on shelves, or food on tables; no touching anything. 
    • Throw down; This means to relax and settle in for a very long down, both Darby and Andretti will flop down on their sides and pretty much take a nap on this command. 
    "Throw Down" is especially useful in restaurants that allow dogs. I can put down a pad, tell them to throw down, and they don't move. They don't bother the waitstaff or other diners, it's what keeps us welcome an many places (even some who don't openly advertise as 'dog friendly', but are on a case by case basis. We are unfailingly an exception for them)

      Phwew! That's a lot of basics!! But each and every one of them has a show ring application for conformation or Obedience/Rally and more important, every one of them has a real-life application.

      Lyric, Andretti, Darby, Whisper and Echo executing a long, unleashed Down-Stay at a public dog show in 2009. Three grown-up dogs and 2  six month old pups trying so very hard to do what we were asking them to do. 

      One of the most practical applications, aside from public manners, has been a unique combination of commands; back-it-up, down and stay. It comes together as the command we call "Perimeter". I know that sounds like a mouthful, trainers usually suggest that obedience commands be short and simple. However, for this one I purposely chose a four syllable word because it gives the dogs time to hear it and obey it before the end of the verbal command.
      What is "Perimeter"? 
      Glad you asked. After being very frustrated with a mob of 4 dogs crowding the front door everytime someone would knock, or one of us would put the key in the door upon arriving at home, I decided that there was no excuse for a pack of otherwise very well trained dogs to behave like such an unruly mob. My little brain spun...they all know and respect 'sit' and 'down'. Hmmm. They all know and respect the 'stay' command. Hmmmmmm. They all know 'back it up' real well. I did the math, and started teaching the combined commands in steps. All of this without front door stimulus, but in the area of the front door/entry hall. Back it up......with a target of the edge of the hardwood flooring and the carpet. This is where the front entry hall turns into the living room. Perfect, this is where I want to see the dogs when I enter the front door from the outside. Working with one dog at a time, with lots of treats, the command, and a fair bit of foot stomping at first, 'backing it up' to a 'target' of the carpet was achieved. Every time the dog would follow the command, retreating backwards smoothly with eye contact, I would reward with 'okay' and treats the moment they hit the carpet. It took only a few times for each of them to get that concept. After they had that down, I bumped up the expectation to 'back it up', and then 'down' the moment they hit the target. This was easy, as down is one of everyone's best tricks. And then the easiest part, 'stay'. 'Stay' is an anticipation game in this application, everyone pays very close attention for the release command, which garners a huge display of praise and a treat, and sometimes a huge jackpot (triple treats) on random occasions. Once each dog had each part of the command solid, I started asking for "Perimeter! Back it up, back it up, down, stay.........Okay!!!" combined with me moving forward as they retreated to the target area. This is what the practice of the combined commands looks like with Darby. Normally I would not tell him to come and then put him directly into a back up/perimeter. This was only for demonstration of his understanding of the word.

      I was very happy when they individually 'got it', but was amazed and beyond proud when they all grasped the concept and performed it, together as a pack, after just a few tries. It proved to me that solid individual training is imperative to any type of group compliance. We reenforced the command many times before I moved the operation OUTSIDE the front door. When a command is taught solidly, it can usually be given effectively from a distance (or in this case from behind a closed door) with very little retraining. This is what it looks like after about 2 days of training, from behind the door:

      This was about a year ago July, and the command has only become more reliable since. Guests can now come over and not be mobbed. We've advanced to being able to release one dog at a time, and then return them to 'perimeter', until the initial excitement has worn off a bit. It is the epitome of practical application of combining basic obedience commands.

      Now that I've had my say, for the ULTIMATE in teamwork and control, check out these two very VERY greyhound specific Agility sites; two people I am personally honored to be friends with. Helen Hamilton, DVM of Aragon Greyhounds is the breeder and part owner of Darby Crash and a longtime friend of mine. She has some of the most accomplished obedience, agility, conformation and tracking greyhounds of all time, in the history of greyhounds. And I'm not talking about one dog accomplished in just one or two of those things, she has multiple dogs accomplished in ALL OF THOSE THINGS, EACH DOG!!!  Jennifer Bachelor of Never Say Never is a friend whom I met through Helen and has visited Stine Ranch on one occasion and always leaves nice comments on my FaceBook page. Oh, and one of her greyhounds is GOING TO BE A REAL LIVE MOVIE STARLET in a real live movie with Mark Whalberg (Markie Mark, remember?), Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) and Ed Harris (you know, Ed Harris.)!!! I'm serious! Check out her blog to find out which one!


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