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.
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.
Most training schools are happy to allow you to attend and observe (leave Fido at home for this) a class or two to be sure the style of instruction fits with your beliefs. Dogs learn best through progressive reinforcement training; rewarding the dog for making the right choice and withholding rewards, or ignoring the dog for making an incorrect choice.
If a dog has a clean run without any faults, it’s called a qualifying run or a “Q,” and they’ll get points added to their official record. If they get a good score, they may also receive a placement ribbon. Winning a first place is a lot of fun, but in the grand scheme of things placements don’t matter until you reach high levels of competition. However, the Qs are important – with enough points, your dog will earn a title. A title is a certificate of accomplishment. As you earn each title you stick it to the end of your dog’s name, so Fido’s name can eventually start to look like Jonas’s. Very snazzy.
Weave Poles: This one might be the most exciting element to watch a dog complete, but can be one of the most challenging to train for. If you’ve ever seen a ski slalom race, you already have a good idea of what the dog will need to do to get through this obstacle. Several vertical poles are set up in a row and the dog must weave its way back and forth between them in a snake-like fashion.
Remember that training is an ongoing process. You will never be completely finished. It is important to keep working on obedience training throughout the life of your dog. People who learn a language at a young age but stop speaking that language may forget much of it as they grow older. The same goes for your dog: use it or lose it. Running through even the most basic tricks and commands will help them stay fresh in your dog's mind. Plus, it's a great way to spend time with your dog.