Dog training doesn't end after class is over


Think of dog training as a method of communication -- not control -- and you're on your way to an easier life with your canine companion.

Training classes are a fine place to start with both puppies and dogs, but it's just a beginning. The heel-sit-stay of a basic training class sets the foundation for good behavior and provides dog lovers with a format for continued problem-solving.

Every summer, dog lovers head by the dozens into training classes. A few week later, classes are full of people with dogs that walk without pulling, stay without whining and sit without wriggling. The instructors hand out the diplomas, and the handlers return to their homes, where the dogs bark without stopping, jump without asking and dig without consideration for the backyard flora.

These are trained dogs? Not really, but by applying the skills learned in a class, any dog lover can have a well-behaved pet at home as well as in class.

If your dog knows how to heel and stay but forgets away from class, it's not the dog's fault. You've told him clearly that good behavior is required in class only. To change his behavior, you have to change the message. Tell him to heel -- and correct him when he doesn't -- when you're walking him to the park, to the neighbor's house, to the vet's. Tell him to stay -- and correct him when he doesn't -- when he's in the car.

Apply what you've learned. If your dog foams at the window when he sees the mail carrier, use the stay command to break him of that habit. Get a jump on your dog by spotting the mail carrier before he does, and put him on stay. Make him stay -- and correct him if he doesn't -- until the mail carrier is gone and you've brought in the mail. Then release the dog and praise him -- profusely -- for his exemplary behavior.

Do you kick your dog outside when company arrives because he is so friendly he makes a pest of himself? Put him on stay before the guests arrive, and after everyone has settled in, release your dog and let him exchange polite hellos. After he has done that, suggest he find a comfortable place to settle down, and if he doesn't want to, it's back to stay.

Think of the ways you can expand your dog's capabilities and keep working on them. Dogs love to learn. Once patterns of good behavior are set, they can be the foundation for even more challenging exercises. Be patient, and keep trying until you and your dog get it right.

A little imagination and a lot of practice are all you need to succeed. Soon your dog will be so well-behaved he'll make you wish it would rub off on your children. Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.

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