Cheryl May's How to Succeed in Basic Obedience Class

Copyright by Cheryl May. May be reprinted without permission 1) if used in its entirety without editing; and 2) provided copyright notice remains in place.

How to succeed in basic obedience class by really trying!

Here are some "do's" and "don'ts" to help you get the most out of basic obedience class.

* DO come to every class session. If your dog is sick, or in season, leave the dog at home, but come to watch and learn. If the instructor doesn't provide handouts, take notes.

* DO give the instructor's suggestions a chance. Try them out. If they don't work, tell the instructor so he or she can offer alternate suggestions. Few dog training instructors would want you to do anything you do not want to do when training your dog. Those of us who teach using positive methods may find it odd when a handler doesn't want to comply with our suggestions, but most of us try to be understanding. The methods I've opted to use are ones that I feel have the most potential for success with the majority of dogs. There are many ways of teaching every behavior, and I will work with owners to find the best way for them. But to save time in a class situation, it is helpful if everyone at least gives the first suggested method a try. Your willingness to at least try trainer suggestions will affect how much you and your dog benefit from a class situation.

* DO work with your dog every day, at least once or twice. I suggest students work their dogs 5 minutes twice a day for the duration of class. My basic class is based on the Canine Good Citizen curriculum suggested by the American Kennel Club, so that means there is a lot of material to cover in a short period of time. The class moves very quickly, as do most others of which I'm aware. If you don't work with your dog between classes, the instructor will know it because by the third week you will be hopelessly behind.

* DO let the instructor know in advance if your dog is aggressive to people or other dogs. Policies differ at various clubs and schools. Some will permit your dog to attend if wearing a muzzle. Others will suggest private lessons with a behaviorist.

* DO remember that a reward is what your dog says it is -- most dogs have clear preferences regarding toys and treats. Listen to your dog!

* DO have realistic expectations about how long it will take to fix a behavior problem. If you've ignored a behavior you dislike and permitted it to go on, figure it will take a month of work for every week the behavior has persisted.

* DO learn to read your dog so you know what he or she is telling you!

* DON'T say "My dog doesn't like toys" or "My dog doesn't like treats." Trust me, if you find the right toy or treat, your dog will like both. Bring your dog to class on an empty stomach and have a variety of treats available. Cut-up pieces of hot dog, bologna, ham, chicken, liver, roast beef, etc., are extremely appealing to dogs whose dinner is normally served an hour or two before class. Braunschweiger (liverwurst) is irresistible to most dogs. It's also high in fat, so you will need to limit your use of this treat. Take your dog with you to a pet superstore and browse the toy aisle. There is a huge variety of toys available nowadays and one is likely to attract your dog's attention. Take the toy home. Toss it and race your dog to be the first to get to the toy. Act like you find the toy fascinating and fun. Your dog will follow suit.

* DON'T be a "Yes, but-er." If you say "Yes, but" to every suggestion the instructor makes you will soon find yourself being ignored. It's not that the instructor no longer cares about you and your dog. But because so many classes have a number of people who need help, it is likely the instructor will work more with those who are willing to work with him or her.

And the No. 1 "DON'T" that absolutely, positively drives instructors crazy:

* DON'T (meaning NEVER, EVER) blame your dog! Your dog is the product of her environment, her past training -- or lack of it, and how you -- or others -- have interacted with her. If you've made mistakes, so be it. You can fix them. But it isn't your dog's fault if she counter-surfs, jumps up on people, or chews your shoes -- she hasn't been taught that she shouldn't do these things. Dog trainers know how to fix all of these problem behaviors -- and we will share with you what you need to do to fix them. But please look at a behavior issue as something to be solved and not look at where to place blame -- especially if you are thinking about blaming your dog.

And one final suggestion:

* DO pay attention to your dog and enjoy your time interacting with her.

Good luck. Have fun!

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