The fur is flying, the noise is at a decibel I've never experienced before and the desire to win is so thick you can feel it. This is agility competition for dogs and Fiona, my soon to be athlete, and I are on the sidelines of an agility competition taking notes. Dogs of every breed, size and shape are jumping hurdles, running up A-frames, scampering across elevated walkways and diving through tunnels. So as not to get lost on the course, each dog is in constant eye contact with their owner who gives directions through hand signals and one-word prompts.
I've dabbled in agility with a previous dog, but this time I want to go to the show. My 10-month old sheltie is only a spectator now, but the look in her eyes tells me she's ready to become a contender. I've learned from the pros that the road ahead will be filled with training and hard work (for me and for Fiona), but the time spent developing our speed and skills will be rewarded by a canine-human bond rarely obtained in any other activity.
The clicker is a small hand-held device that makes a distinct, short sound to mark a desired behavior. (See clicker training for a more detailed discussion of this methodology.) It has gained popularity in recent years as being a means of training that does not involve physically correcting the dog, though it may be used in conjunction with these methods.
Let your new dog gradually earn freedom throughout your home. A common error that many pet parents make is giving their new dog too much freedom too soon. This can easily lead to accidents relating to housetraining and destructive chewing. So, close off doors to unoccupied rooms and use baby gates to section off parts of the house, if necessary. One of the best ways to minimize incidents is to keep your dog tethered to you in the house and by using a crate or doggie safe area when you can’t actively supervise him.
Flat collars are commonly used in clicker training and other non-correction-based training, such as puppy kindergarten. They are also effective in training small dogs, however they tend to lift the dog off the ground when giving corrections while the dog is distracted or in high adrenal mode. They are typically made of nylon or leather, and fasten with a buckle or quick-release connection.
At a basic level, owners want dogs with which they can pleasantly share a house, a car, or a walk in the park. Some dogs need only a minimum amount of training to learn to eliminate outside (be housebroken), to sit, to lie down, or to come on command (obey a recall). Many other dogs prove more challenging. New dog owners might find training difficult and fail to make progress, because they expect dogs to think and act like humans, and are surprised and baffled when the dogs don't.
No breed is impossible to obedience train, but novice owners might find training some breeds quite difficult. The capacity to learn basic obedience—and even complicated behavior—is inherent in all dogs. Some breeds may require more patience or creativity in training than others. Individual dogs that exhibit fearful or anxious behaviors should also be handled with greater care, and especially not trained using harsh corrective methods, as this training can be psychologically harmful to the dog and result in further behavioral issues.
Dog training depends on the dog and how much homework the dog owner is willing to put in. Puppy training is similar to dog training in that the onus of the work depends on the owner learning new ways to interact with their dog. For a quick crash course, you can opt for a single, two hour smart-start puppy training consultation to teach you the ins and outs of being a new dog parent. You can learn how to manage potty training and what to do if the puppy experiences separation anxiety. As long as you’re willing to work on dog training a little bit each day, your puppy will quickly learn these new behaviors. If you’re not confident about training your puppy yourself, you can enroll in a 6- to 8-week puppy training course, with weekly lessons touching on everything from bite control to obedience. Puppies usually need to be at least three months old for group training classes. If you want more intensive one-on-one work, you can opt for private lessons. Some behavior problems can be resolved in one session if the dog owner learns and can implement new skills. In the case of more serious issues, 3 to 10 private sessions can typically correct challenges.
Teeter boards can be built with a long piece of wood and some PVC pipe. Mix an antiskid additive with paint and cover the entire board. This will provide your dog with more traction as he walks across the board. Purchase a large plumbing pipe from a local hardware store. Place the pipe directly in the center of the board and drill two holes in either side of the pipe. Place a carriage bolt through each of the holes and through the pipe to attach it to the board. Next, place the bolts on the inside of the holes in the pipe and tighten a nut on each bolt to hold them together.
Slip collars (commonly called choke chain or check chains) are made of metal links or rolled material such as nylon or leather. A metal ring is at each end. Historically, slip collars have been used as a matter of course, mostly in North America and the UK. In the last few decades use of these collars has declined. Correctly used, the collar should make a quick clicking not zipping sound when quickly snapped and released to startle or get the attention of the dog and indicate to the handler that the technique was a swift jerk not a choke. The idea is not to strangle the dog, though this can happen if the collar is improperly used.
Money. Therein lies the rub. One of the drawbacks to training competitively is the cost. Between class fees and trial entries, this can be an expensive sport. That doesn’t have to deter you, though. Many clubs offer significant discounts on training and entries if you work at their trials, which was a huge help for me. I earned quite a few free or nearly free classes by working trials. The fees for junior handlers (-18) are also considerably more affordable.
Dogs that demonstrate the previously mentioned basic skills, as well as walking reasonably well on a leash and a few other minor tasks, can be tested for and earn the American Kennel Club's (AKC) Canine Good Citizen certification. While not a competitive obedience title, a CGC certification demonstrates that the dog is sociable, well behaved, and reliable in public settings. Some insurance companies will waive breed restrictions on dogs with CGCs, and many states have passed resolutions supporting and encouraging CGC certification as a yardstick for canine manners and responsible dog ownership.
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