Thursday, April 28, 2011

obedience training: lesson 1

at our first training session, we were taught an official way to command desmond to sit. this is less because desmond doesn't know how to sit and more because we need him to learn, once and for all, that we are in charge--no matter how much he whines or how cute his face is. basic obedience training like this is the foundation of everything else, and it will, in turn, curb desmond's separation anxiety. or so we are being told by a trainer and behaviorist who is charging big bucks.

from what i have gathered, a behaviorist is a type of trainer who can charge more for his/her services than someone who is purely an obedience trainer. this particular dude is also a judge at dog shows and has a list of other credentials that make me feel confident in our decision to go with him. he also has a calm demeanor, which i really like, because i'm hoping that will help me to be the same way with desmond.

one of the things i found surprising was that he doesn't use treats with his training and suggests that you not use them either--at all, ever. he sees no reason to spend money on something that isn't actually helping the dog follow the commands or respect you. he sees it like this: the dog is working for food, not because he is supposed to listen to you.

it's not that we've never heard the pros and cons of using treats when you train--we have, and we mostly agree that using them to train is defeating the purpose a bit--but i was taken aback by the idea of never treating desmond to something yummy, either for doing a good job or for no reason at all.

i guess the theory is if you're feeding the dog the correct amount of food every day, treats are nothing more than empty calories and a waste of money--they aren't productive at all. yet, if there's one thing i've learned over the years, it's that you can't be productive all the time, even when you really want to be. i've also learned that loving hard & fast & too much is OK, especially when that love is directed at another living thing you've chosen to spend your life with. we will continue to give him treats, though we may not buy quite as many or as often, and i, personally, will stop using them to train him on commands as we get past them in our lessons. now that we've done sit and sit-stay, i won't use treats for those commands anymore. in the meantime, when my adorable doggie gives me a paw because i asked him to, he's going to get a lovely little snack.

anyway, the sit lesson. it's not simply, "hey dog, time to sit." it begins with some walking back and forth--and there's a special way to do that walking. also, it begins with a new way to hold the leash.

an overhead view
you need a six-foot leash; you need to keep the dog on your left and grab the leash fairly close to where it hooks onto the dog in the same way you would hold handlebars; and you need to keep your arm down and relaxed. (joey held the leash up and out to get a better view of the position.) with your right hand, you take the loop of the leash with your thumb--don't put it around your wrist; don't wrap the leash around your hand. you just hook your thumb into the loop.

from the front

then you use your right hand to reach over & down on the leash, toward your left hand. your right hand then pulls some of the excess leash over, to be kept in your right fist (with the loop that's hooked on your hand). you'll have most of the excess hanging down between your two hands.

this is pretty much the opposite of how i was holding the leash. when i'm walking desmond, he still pulls a little too much (or darts out after birds, rolling garbage cans, floating paper towels, etc.) for this kind of hold on the leash. i've tried it, and it hurts quite a bit when the leash rubs against my left pinky. kind of like a rug burn = not fun. we'll keep trying though.

in the meantime, it doesn't matter because the training is supposed to be done indoors only for now, so i can use my ridiculous wrapped-around-72-times thing on my right hand and hopefully save a few neighborhood squirrels and butterflies.

after you get yourself set up with the dog on the leash, you pretty much just walk around your house with him. no need to go far--i don't think we walked more than 10 steps at any point.

crappy quality, i know. sorry!
here, desmond is getting distracted by his bed and toys and the possibility that maybe some treats magically appeared in his puzzle while he wasn't looking, as tends to happen. no matter: you just keep on walking. drag the dog if you must.

then you stop and look at him and quietly ask him to sit. if he sits right away, great! praise. if he doesn't sit right away, you wait to see if he will, but if he still doesn't after a little while or starts getting all distracted by random things, you jerk the leash with your left hand (this is why you need your hand pretty low) and say, "no." then ask him to sit again. you keep doing that until you get a decent sit and always praise when you do, of course.

good boy!
after that, you start walking again. then you stop for some more sitting. repeat a bunch of times.

again, i know it seems really simple and very "no kidding, dummy." i don't care. we're going to do whatever it takes to make this dog the best dog he can be. so much love for that guy!

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