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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Before you can do that, you must do this...


My new buddies here in Montana are in a hurry to teach their dogs the sports of Rally Obedience and Agility.  These activities look like so much fun (and are) that some want to dive right in before learning how to swim.

When they do, they predictably thrash around in the "water," getting frustrated because their dogs won't do what they're supposed to do on the courses. Time to throw out the life ring!

Before you can learn to dance, you must learn to walk, balance, and keep time.  Those things, alone, take time and patience.  Some people never get it.

Before you can do dressage on a beautiful horse, you must teach it to walk, trot and canter properly.  That can take years.  Before you teach those three gaits, you must teach it to respect you, to pick up its feet for the farrier, and to tolerate any number of other inconveniences.

Before you can compete in high school basketball, you must first learn to dribble, shoot, and pass, and you must learn the rules of the game.  You don't learn those things on the court in the middle of a tournament!

Before your dog can compete in agility, obedience, rally or any other competitive endeavor, you both must first learn the basics.   

For the dog:
  1. Pay attention to the leader 24/7, because the leader is your key to survival!  
  2. Respect and revere the leader, because he/she is the one who will keep you alive!
  3. Exercise self control so you don't hurt yourself or anyone else in the pack, and so you earn the praise (not the wrath) of the leader.

For the human:  
  1. How to be the 24/7 benevolent leader your dog craves.
  2. How to speak your dog's language, not that of a new-age psychobabbler with a doctorate in "animal behavior."
  3. How to teach the most basic commands, like come, stay, and down.

Those who put up with disrespectful behavior from their dogs at home should not expect their dogs to perform well in a ring.  Respect must be earned--not by reactive reprimands, but by proactive guidance.. Respect sets the stage for learning and cooperation.  It is the motivation behind a dog's will to please.  Respect cannot be bribed with food rewards.  There is, of course, a huge place for food rewards, but it comes after the respect has been established.  The food treats are frosting on the cake then, but your approval should still be the cake itself.

Take time to critique the relationship you have with your dog.  If it needs work, seek the help of a trainer who understands (and can teach you) the importance of  being a good leader.  Once your dog begins to look at you in this new and improved role, you'll both have a lot more fun with each other!

1 comment:

sallyinyakima said...

Jan, It is good to revisit fundamentals as usual. I am encouraged by your consistency. Thank you. FB posts and photos are very uplifting too. How do you get your 14 Hands?