April 11, 2011

Dog Obedience 1

For those who don't know (ie almost everyone who might read this!), I am a licensed Dog Obedience judge, and I was recently honoured to be invited to judge a large Obedience Trial in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was a very interesting weekend in all sorts of ways, and I am still very grateful for the opportunity, so when I was subsequently asked to write a regular column for the Malaysian Kennel Association magazine, I naturally agreed.
Besides, what an irresistible combination of three of my greatest interests: writing, dogs, and giving my opinion on things!

So I might as well use the articles as occasional blog posts, getting maximum value from the minimal effort I expend. ;-) Here's my first contribution, aimed at those who are uncertain about whether or not to try Dog Obedience, and/or who know little about it.

Dog Obedience Training 1 - Mythbusting!
1. You have to start with a puppy. - MYTH BUSTED!
Many people have successfully trained dogs which came to them in the dog's later life, perhaps from a shelter or another family member. Just like people, dogs are never too old to learn!

2. You need a Working or Utility breed to train in Obedience. MYTH BUSTED!
Border Collie and Jack Russell Terrier successfully performing "Down Stay with Handler out of Sight"
at the top level of Obedience (in Malaysia).
Again, just as with people, some dogs find learning easy, others need patience and a different approach. The breed or mixture of breeds is immaterial - it is the individual dog which matters, and with the right sort of training, every dog can learn. 

3. There's no point in doing Obedience if you don't want to enter competitions. MYTH BUSTED!
Obedience training simply means working with your dog to learn new skills. That might be as simple as teaching your dog not to jump up when people visit, or to walk calmly beside you on the lead and to sit down when you stop. These exercises form part of basic training, and make your dog more of a pleasure to be around. If you are interested, however, you and your dog can go on learning more and more. It's all up to you.

4. You have to train your dog regularly if you want to succeed. MYTH CONFIRMED!
Training methods vary, but most trainers agree that if you want your dog to learn something and then remember what it has learned, you will need to practice. But that might be as infrequently as once a week, or as often as twice a day - it is all up to you and the result you want to achieve.

5. You don't need a professional trainer or a club to learn Obedience. MYTH CONFIRMED!
It is certainly possible to teach your dog basic Obedience without any assistance, but there are many advantages to joining a club. You will get the benefit of other people's experiences, you will learn some alternative methods of training if you are having difficulty, and you and your dog will enjoy the company of others with similar interests. 

6. Obedience Clubs are all very competitive. MYTH BUSTED!
Most clubs have a wide range of members and interests, from those who just want a well-behaved family pet, to those who are keen to reach the highest standards in the sport. Good clubs will welcome everyone with an interest in training their dog, no matter what the reason. 

7. Anyone can be a Dog Obedience Trainer. MYTH PLAUSIBLE.
It is true that no special qualifications are required in order to call yourself a "Trainer", but that does not mean that anyone can be a good or helpful trainer. If you are looking for someone to help you train your dog, it is wise to do a little homework before investing your time and money. That's why it is often better to join a Dog Obedience Club so you can get to know a bit more about what makes a good trainer. You could also ask the Kennel Association for some recommendations, if you want to get a private trainer.

8. Some training methods are cruel. MYTH CONFIRMED!
Unfortunately there are still trainers who believe in using harsh corrections and punishment as a way of training a dog, but these days most trainers use what is known as "positive reinforcement", which means rewarding the dog for doing the right thing instead of punishing it for doing the wrong thing. This method is much kinder to the dog and gets much better results.

9. Some dogs are impossible to train. MYTH BUSTED!
There is no single method of training which suits every dog, and good trainers will know how to adjust their methods to allow for a particular dog or handler's personality and past experiences. Some dogs are more difficult to train than others, perhaps due to a stubborn nature, or a disability, or because of some past trauma, but a good trainer will be able to help the owner overcome these, even if it takes a bit longer.

10. You can't do Obedience Training with a Show Dog (or vice versa). MYTH(S) BUSTED!
Obedience Training is all about teaching your dog (and you) to work together as a team in whatever activity you choose to do. That includes going for a walk or run, taking your dog to visit friends, doing retrieving with a ball or dumbbell, jumping over obstacles, entering obedience trials … or conformation shows. Many dogs have both Conformation and Obedience titles, and it doesn't matter at all which you do first, or if you enjoy both activities at the same time. The main thing is for you and your dog to enjoy working together!


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