Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Canine Education -- Good for Dogs and Humans

Why You Should Go to School With Your Dog

By Jean Card

Like many dog lovers, I once believed that love conquers all – that simply caring for my dog would lead us through any behavioral challenges.

 Then I got a dog.

 I was fortunate enough, at the time, to have a neighbor and friend who was a veterinarian and dog behavior guru – the owner of three champion Laikas with enough ribbons and trophies to fill a wall of bookshelves in her house!

My friend was more than willing to share her knowledge of what it really takes to have a great, well-behaved dog (instead of the incessantly barking, jumping, leash-biting, leash-pulling, yowling 10-month-old shelter puppy name Daisy that I had on my hands … without the first clue of what to do other than feed, pet and love her!).

From my veterinarian friend, I learned the basic value of things like crating, daily long walks and always rewarding positive behavior (“always carry treats!” she told me).

 My friend also taught me the importance of enrolling in actual training classes with my dog – something I now recommend to every dog owner I know.
Daisy and I have been through basic obedience twice – once at Pet Smart and once at Woofs in Arlington, Virginia – and have recently graduated to more intermediate skills in a Woofs tricks class last fall.

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With each class we take, the bond between us deepens and my ability to lead Daisy into the most desirable behavior is increased exponentially.

Here is just one example of what I’ve learned in class that I would never have known otherwise:

The most basic positive dog behavior – the foundation for all others – is voluntary attention and eye contact from your dog. This simple act of the dog looking at you and holding your gaze is something that should be rewarded with a yummy, tiny treat, over and over and over. Our work on this basic skill means that when we’re out on a dog walk and encounter an exciting situation (like a jumping, barking or lunging dog), I am more likely to be able to engage Daisy’s attention on ME and move past the situation without escalation.

Because of what we’ve learned in class (and practiced on walks and at home), Daisy and I are now ready to do even more fun things together – we’ll be taking an agility class soon, and we will continue to work on the skills needed to earn her Canine Good Citizen certification this year, qualifying her to be a therapy dog at local hospitals.
Going to school with your dog is the responsible thing to do, but it is also the most fun thing you can do as a dog owner and dog lover. For me, it has meant learning more about my favorite topic (Daisy and dogs!) and deepening my bond with my best canine friend.

Jean Card is a writer and dog lover living in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband Noel Card, their dog Daisy Sue, and their two cats, Ricky and Lucy.