McFADDEN: Obedience training isn’t always easy, but worth the effort

Man loves obedience. He loves it in his wife (remember those wedding vows?), he loves it in the laws and, most of all, he loves it in his dog.

Obedience-trained dogs do not grow on trees, however. It is amazing for me to listen to people complain about their dogs’ behavior when they allow them into the house after leaving them outside alone all day. To be a part of your family, your dog must spend time with the family.

An endorsement for the value of obedience training was once graphically enacted out in my waiting room.

I watched one afternoon while an elegantly dressed woman, complete in velvet jumpsuit and heavy diamonds, was positively muddied by her large collie as it alternately jumped on her, strained away from her and caught its chain around her ankle. By the time she reached the exam room, the woman was disheveled, exhausted and quite frankly didn’t give a darn about her pet’s health. She hated that dog.

There’s a lot to be said for the value of signing your dog up for an obedience course. Yes, you can probably teach your dog to sit on command very easily – especially in the kitchen with a treat. But a good obedience class takes you both so much further.

It will teach you how to communicate with your dog and train you in leash etiquette and social manners so that your dog will listen and behave even with the distraction of other dogs around.

This is invaluable. Your pet will be under control on walks, at no risk of running away or being hit by a car. You will both be confident of your bond and can enjoy trips, camping, travels to beaches and picnics – your dog will be welcome everywhere as “family.” That is the magic which obedience lessons confer upon you.

I must insert a small disclaimer here, a bit of “fine print” that not every dog is a cookie-cutter success in obedience work. Each breed has strengths to build from, all pet wills introduce their own personality into the mix. Sometimes even veterinarians who have trained and shown their dogs in obedience trials (i.e., me) can encounter challenges.

Years ago we had taken in two puppies simultaneously, very different breeds: a Bouvier des Flanders and an Irish wolfhound. Now Bouviers are often used in police work, and are widely recognized for their intelligence and agility. Irish wolfhounds are a “giant” breed, with a great history and backstory – hunting down wolves and all that — but the modern dog is docile and frankly, are snooze hounds –180-pound snoozers, that is.

The afternoon their basic training commenced I had my older son, Stan, assisting. I demonstrated the basics of initiating “heel” and “sit,” then turned the Bouvier over to him and was pleased to see immediate results. Eager to please and loving the attention, the Bouvier managed about 20 sits in 5 minutes.

I turned my attention to the Irish Wolfhound. It was a warm afternoon. We started off with a slow walk, and then I asked for a “sit.” My dog stared at me. Confidently, I corrected him while gently pushing down over his hindquarters. Nothing moved. His tongue lolled out as he began to pant and looked longingly back at the house. I pulled up on his leash harder and pushed down on his back, repeating my command. (Rule No. 1: Never repeat yourself or the dog won’t learn to respond the first time you give a command. Every rule has its exception, right?)

Again, those big brown eyes searched my face wonderingly. I placed both hands firmly on his hindquarters and pushed with all my might, yelling “Sit!” Ever so slowly, he lowered his elegant backside to the ground.

Phew! Elated with the progress, I circled back to position ( the dog is supposed to do that, but never mind), took up the slack in the leash and firmly commanded, “Heel,” stepping forward. I was jerked back because the dog never moved. I turned to face him and there, plain as day, his face reproved me for not being able to make up my mind. First I wanted him to sit and now that he was sitting I wanted him to get up, well, wasn’t that the silliest thing ever.

We stared at each other for several moments. He refused to move until I turned his head towards the house and decided to call it a day. Eventually that Bouvier learned to heel and spin on a dime off leash, but the Irish wolfhound only learned how to swing himself on the back porch.

I always recommend obedience training to my clients. What you and your dog get out of the classes may not result in military precision obedience maneuvers, but you’ll definitely bond over the experience.

If you are truly interested in competing with your dog at obedience shows, there are some breeds you probably should avoid. But if you’re looking for a great lap dog for a football team, have I got the dog for you.