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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Burton's Break Thru - Why Obedience & a Strong Bond are important.

Burton, my husband's newest Chocolate Lab, has been with us for about 4 months now and is about 18 months old.

When we first got him, while well-loved and cared for, Burton was 20 lbs. over weight and typical of a young dog, was very energetic and in need of a lot of exercise to burn off some of his exuberance. As is typical when going to a new home, he didn't exactly listen to us at first (I'm sure he was thinking "Who the heck are YOU?!?!) and so with patience and love, we taught him the rules of our house.

While Burton did have previous training, it was important for us to build a rapport & review the skills with him. Some of the things we worked on:
  • Recalls - since it is our job to keep Burton safe, a solid recall is a must to keep him out of trouble. I love making this a fun thing for the dogs so they come running when they hear "Come!"
  • "Please - may I?" - before Burton could go out a door, have his leash put on, be fed and even petted, we required him to SIT first. In a sense, this was his way of asking "Please". This made him think about his actions and required him to control himself. A good lesson for him, but we reap the benefits as well. After all, he wasn't knocking us out of doorways, jumping on us, spilling food, etc.
  • Walking WITH us (i.e. next to us vs. pulling us down the road). Since we're the leaders of our dogs, things like walks should go at our pace. This prevents broken backs, longer arms and potential mishaps on walks, but also, it teaches Burton to look to us, to ignore distractions and he gets rewarded for all of these things!
  • Stay & Release Word - Stay is a great exercise to teach Burton to control his impulses and to listen & understand the one word that means he is done. We love to train this game and one of the ways is by playing hide & seek in the house.
After 4 months, Burton's really blossomed, bonded, gained confidence and it was very apparent this evening as we did some beginner Agility training.

Dan did some basic tunnel work, taught him the chute and began rear-crosses on these obstacles to get him (and Dan) used to the body language and handling that's envolved. Burton was loving it!

I had started shaping the beginnings of Burton's 2 on 2 off contacts using a board on the ground several weeks back. I love this ground work because it forces the dog to think about their back legs. It wasn't always easy - when I first started, he was still very young, overly excited, wiggly and a chomper when it came to taking treats. However, now that we have the basics on his obedience/house rules training, we've been far more successful on his Agility Training.

Tonight Burton was really offering up and becoming much more rear-leg aware - it was neat to watch! I tend to let the dog figure things out and reward the desired steps, while Dan wants to jump in and manage the actions himself, which is typical of most humans .

Either way, Burton is a champ at going with the flow and really enjoys himself when it comes to training time.

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