MAY 2009


When last did any of us take a serious look at the way we work with our dogs in the obedience class? Often we simply come to class because:
- We have paid for the training
- The dog needs to get exercise and other stimulation
- To just get out of the house

But our hearts and souls are not in the training session. Commands for the dog are given in a monotonous voice, we rarely (if ever) praise the dog, we drag our feet instead of walking briskly with the dog, and we never get excited when working with the dog (except for the all too often used "NO"!). The predictable result is that our dogs are equally uninterested, not paying attention, simply plodding along and definitely not enjoying the outing.

When your dog's attention is not focused on you (and vice versa), the dog trails behind you, or charges out ahead of you (following to his own agenda), has time to look around and pick a fight with its neighbour, or takes the scenic route when you turn and he only decides to follow you after several seconds. In reality, both you and your dog are bored and neither really cares about what the other one is doing.

How do you keep your dog's attention and focus on you? Easy: Use the following tricks:

Bond with your dog.
Your dog should always want to be close to you and should be eager to respond to any of your commands. The bond between you and your dog will determine to what extent the dog will be willing to work for you. If your dog is simply just another object (to keep up with the Jones's) and only receives attention once a week during (attempted) dog training and daily feeding times, you really, in all fairness, cannot expect that this dog will do his best during training. This dog is ignored and is totally non-existent for you for the other 6 ¾ days of the week. Training should only take up a few minutes of the day, but it should be quality time. Both of you should enjoy a little daily routine of training, playing and just having fun. This will build up a better relationship between you and your dog. In obedience class, regardless of whether you are working on- or off-lead with your dog, the dog
should want to stay close to you and never leave your left leg. If your dog moves away from your leg more than 20cm in any direction, you are not in control of the situation. Next time when you do an about-turn, check how far away your dog wanders off before he decides to turn. Often it is the whole length of the lead. When the dog is off-lead, he takes the scenic route, walking a wide circle before eventually (?) returning to you. A dog that is paying attention will turn immediately and tight, as if glued to your leg, even without a verbal command.

Get your dog to look at you.
Teach your dog the command "Watch me!" or "Look!" and reward your dog whenever he does this correctly. The expectation of a reward (be it a snack, a pat on the head, a run for a ball or simply a "Good boy!") will allow you to gradually increase the time that the dog really looks up at you. A dog that is looking at its handler is concentrating and paying attention to instructions and has no time to eyeball and challenge his neighbour. Thus - less potential dog fights.

Change your tone of voice.
Guys, put some feeling into the training. At least try to sound excited. If you continue to talk to your dog in monotonous way, how can you expect a quick and enthusiastic response from your dog? If you are enthusiastic, your dog will respond by being more enthusiastic, resulting in quicker reactions.

Change your pace.
The slower you walk, the more bored the dog becomes. Speed up and just watch how it influences your dog's performance. The dog is more attentive and reactions will be more precise and quicker. After all, we all can do with a bit more exercise and a quicker pace will benefit everybody.

Quick command, quick response, quick reward.
Listen to yourself: "Fluffy, Sit. Fluffy, SIT! Fluffy, SIT, SIT, SIT!!!" We often beg our dogs to obey a command One command! Quick response (or help the dog if it is ignoring the instruction) and IMMEDIATE reward for the dog. Do not regard obedience class as oh-no-must-we-really-attend-this?

It is important for both you and the dog to bring the FUN back into obedience class and enjoy the training.