Behind the Facade

here comes my girlHave you ever picked up a magazine containing ads or fashion spreads where you appreciated the beauty of the female models? While many are pretty to begin with, for every “ooh” and “aah” there are ten behind-the-scenes manipulations that produced that image, from hair and makeup to lighting, and especially post-processing. By the same token, when you admire a very well-trained dog, many days, weeks, months, and perhaps even years have gone into the finished product.

I thought about this phenomenon recently when I was at the dog park with Sierra. As many of you know, we only frequent the park when there are either no other dogs present, or perhaps one that we know well. We were standing on the “small dogs” side since the “large dogs” side was occupied by two owners and their dogs. I knew one of the women well. She’s got two German Shepherd mixes who are very sweet, but the male can be reactive and sometimes even aggressive with other dogs. The park sections are separated by a chain link fence, and he often barks and lunges at Sierra. Sierra, for her part, stands there with a “Talk to the paw!” look and seems to enjoy watching him bark himself into a lather. Because I enjoy speaking to the woman, and don’t want to have to shout over all that barking, I call Sierra to me and keep her there, away from the fence. I have heard a few people comment about how well trained she is, and watching her instantly respond to a recall away from a dog who is barking in her face—who she might not be impressed by but is certainly focused on—certainly does look impressive.

The truth is that Sierra had no recall whatsoever when I got her. Training a solid recall takes time with any dog, but with Sierra it was even more challenging. She’s got an incredibly high prey drive and a laser focus. She’ll zone in on a dog approaching from such a distance that I haven’t even spotted them yet. I can always tell when this has happened by her suddenly tense body and hard, focused eye. Now imagine trying to get a dog in that frame of mind to respond to a request to come when called. We began with no distractions, of course, and built up gradually over time. And I won’t lie; it was a lot of work.

The thing is, having a well trained dog doesn’t happen overnight. But you don’t have to drill your dog in obedience for hours a day; in fact, dogs learn better in shorter practice sessions. I’m as guilty as the next person of bemoaning the fact that I don’t have time to train my dogs, or I’m too tired after a long day, or any number of excuses. But really, if you just put in a couple of minutes here and there, and build obedience exercises into the things you do anyway—for example, practicing sits and stays during walks, or down-stays during television commercials—you might be surprised at the difference it can make.

11 Responses to Behind the Facade

  1. Laura says:

    These are things I am learning now. I had a Maltese for 14 1/2 years and I didn’t know how important it was to work on obedience with him. That’s changed with my new pup. We work on obedience at random times/random places every day so she learns to deal with the commands in any situation. And I watch her as she learns and figures out what I’m asking, and she looks proud, and confident, and with purpose.

  2. Thanks for the encouraging post. The laser focus and prey drive are behaviours I’m very familiar with. At times, I despair ever being able to have my guy off leash because after some runaway incidents I won’t risk it until I have a solid recall.

    • Larry says:

      I know exactly what you mean Julia. My pointer/hound rescue has a VERY strong prey drive. Her head is always on a swivel, or her nose to the ground, but when she spots a squirrel or even worse another dog, all bets are off. My dream is to be able to do what Nicole can do with Sierra.

      • After really good walks so far this week, this morning’s felt more like a game of tug o’ war than a walk. I think a flock of turkeys or a pack of coyotes or a herd of unicorns must have come through last night, because my guy went berserk when he sniffed the smells outside this morning. I dragged him for awhile, but he kept trying to go back and sniff the fabulous smells I was depriving him of. If I hadn’t had him on a leash, there’s no way I would have been able to break his focus and call him back to me. He’d now be hanging out with the unicorns!

  3. Evelyn Haskins says:

    I must admit, I’ve never looked at the models in a fashion magazine and thought the models beautiful 😦

    I always tend to think that women look nicer in the ‘before photos’ in ads. (I might be a philstine, though, but I do not like make-up and plucked eyebrows 🙂

    However I DO admire a happy well-trained dog 😉 I’d prefer to see a tear-away though rather than an unhappy cowering ‘well-behaved’ dog.

  4. Hubby spent a lot of time with Maggie as a puppy (I was working full time so only had the evenings) with a training tool of a box of cheerios breakfast cereal, and her recall is instant (99%). Many times she has made me SO proud by coming to me immediately even when there are rabbits or squirrels to chase, when other owners have been frantically shouting for their dogs to ‘come’ with no success. Our key word is ‘here’ as this was what she picked up on when she was young.
    She also knows the word NO and will stop in her tracks, which has helped us keep her out of danger.
    It’s certainly paid off.

  5. Great analogy! So easy to be impressed, takes initiative to be the one to impress.

  6. Leslie Smith says:

    You make a good case for training in small, easy-to-digest chunks. I’m on my third dog now and they all seemed to respond well to practising (I’m a Canadian and that’s how we spell it, SpellCheck!) on walks. It’s a lifetime effort, too. Even with older dogs, a brief refresher on a walk helps reinforce the behaviour (darn it!) you want, and gives them something interesting to do. -Leslie Smith

  7. Birgit says:

    This is interesting. We don’t have a dog park close but we have a leash free beach where dogs can be off line. We take Abby our 1 year old miniature schnauzer to this beach at least once a week. To this stage we have not had problems with her or other dogs she has a good recall, although sometimes it takes more than 2 or 3 calls to get her back but she always come back. She loves other dogs and the dogs off leash on this beach are various sizes and breeds. I have found if someone has their dog on a leash on the beach then the dog is mostly to be avoided and we quickly pick up her leash and take her away.
    My main problem with other dogs is when she is on the leash and we approach another dog she be ones quite feral and I have worked out that we just need to keep walking. If we stop it means I have given into her behaviour. I spend short periods everyday training different things. We have only had her for 4 months and are still learning.

  8. I’m glad I read this, I also pack way too much into my day and with 5 dogs I am guilty of thinking there is no time. But a few minutes here and there I can do. Thank you!

  9. […] This article at Wilde About Dogs couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve been contemplating a training mission for the canine members of the household; just some basic behaviors that would be helpful when the outnumbered humans in the house want to relax, or even crazier, have guests. A lot of times I feel like this Will Never Happen because I have a fantasy of dedicating a half hour of one-on-one training time to each dog every day. This is laughable. So I’ve been working to incorporate more training exercises in to our usual activities. […]

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