AKC Gazette Columns

AKC Gazette - April 1992

It is a genuine pleasure to have again as our guest columnist, Gale Werth, from Madison. Wisconsin. Gale wrote about cart training a Bernese puppy for the December 1987 column.

TRAIN YOUR BERNER AS YOU DO CHORES

With our lives so often in the "fast lane," it's often frustrating when we find yet another day has slipped by with no time left to train our dogs after family, chores, house and yard work.

I try to incorporate my training right in with my chores, otherwise it just wouldn't happen. For me, chores with dogs present an opportunity to include a 10 to 15 minute period two times a day as I accomplish regular clean-up, feeding and a quick walk to empty bladders and stretch legs. I also try to expand the dogs' minds during this time by adding to the foundation of building blocks of learning that I laid down earlier in their lives.

I do the majority of my training on the way back from the walk. The dogs are then ready to take on new responsibility. As usual, I have a pocket full of treats (single pieces of kibble) which I use in teaching one dog to "mark" (watch and locate a thrown object): I throw the treat as far as I can and command, "Mark." If the dog misses its location, I use "find it" while he snuffles around.

During the course of our the walk, I might call each individual dog to me with a specific request such as "down", "sit" or "wait", while continuing to throw treats for marking and catching.

In the summer, I take a large kerchief with me to flick off mosquitoes or flies. This also prepares the dogs so they don't flinch at flapping and snapping objects. With a mature dog, whose growth is complete, jumping can be made fun by using picnic table benches, which make ideal low jumps when tipped over. I have the dogs "over" each one on the way out for our walk and again on the way back. Two times per walk times two benches (or more if you have the dogs go back and forth a few times) and they really get into it, particularly if you use the hand signal and put some gusto into the commands. How much time does it take to jump over a bench? Not much!

After a couple of weeks at the bench level (command and signal), the dog might be ready, with a bit of encouragement, to tackle jumping the picnic table tipped on its side followed by or preceded by hurdling the two separate benches.. The result is progress, coordination, muscle building, and best of all, a learned response to another command which forms yet another block to add to the dog's foundation of learning..

Heading back through the yard, I might require a dog to respond to the command, "get on," designating a large rock, while having another dog "get on" the picnic table.. Following with a "wait" command gives me time to clean up his run or prepare food..

When a dog has mastered returning to his run on command, I sometimes alternate runs just for variety and for making it understood that today the routine will be different.. This makes it necessary for the dog to listen to each thing I say.

Feeding presents the opportunity to have each dog "back up" the length of the run and "stay" in whatever position I might require while I put food at the other end and complete my chores. This might extend to being out of sight around the house while shutting off a faucet. Of course, in the beginning, one has to be willing to go back and enforce that broken command. It is extremely important to be consistent in all you do.

To add variety in our walk, I might grab a couple of pieces of firewood and place a board or two over them as a "bridge" and talk the dogs into "walking the plank." The first couple of times are done on lead and later with- out it. Treats are an invaluable lure to coax a dog across a wobbly board. Don't hesitate with the treats as they emphasize the words of praise. Later I might place the board over one piece of firewood as a low teeter totter and have the dog walk that. Because the dog has already accomplished the "bridge," this just adds spice to it and adds to the building blocks when a command is attached to this new accomplishment.

Most of the things I do are normal obedience things, but many might be considered a pre-school for agility or drafting. True, to do all these things adds time to chores, but unless we "manufacture" jobs for the dogs while we are working at other things, we might not find the time at all.

Some sorts of learning can be managed painlessly when doing yard work. This is true of draft work. Certainly you have to pay attention that the dog doesn't get into trouble with whatever you have set out for him to learn. Put a harness on the dog. Let him learn that it doesn't itch. Another time, strap on a backpack. The dog will discover for himself how easy it is to get a backpack out of position if he rubs up against a bush. A couple of plastic gallon milk jugs partially filled with water and tied to the dog's lead, which is hooked to a non-choke collar, teach the dog to recognize how milk jugs will bounce and bump if he hustles or how they will just come along quietly if he walks.

During such yard sessions is a good time to put on a harness and practice shafts to have the dog experience the limits of the shafts and how they bump into things. This can be done while you rake, clip, weed and prune. Monitor the dog closely for a bit, then relax and continue your own work. These activities can be done with more than one dog at the same time, each doing different tasks. ,

The neat thing about this type of training is that it is painless, timewise; and as it happens twice daily, the commands one chooses become natural. Over time, with repetition, the dogs learn the correct response to a command. Most of all, it's fun!

For the dog, this type of training is just an accepted part of learning and getting ready for the next step. In fact, he becomes eager to learn more. My own dogs get so excited and enthusiastic about learning that they anticipate strategies. As a result, I have to change things often to add variety and challenge.

Just think, two times a day, times five times per command, times five or six commands, times seven days per week, and it all adds up to an infinity of learning opportunities.

-G.W.

Many thanks, Gale, for giving us the inspiration to get out and develop the talents of our dogs. Don't forget, the same type of creativity can be applied while doing chores indoors.

REMEMBER TO ATTEND THE NATIONAL SPECIALTY

The BMDCA specialty will be hosted by the BMDC of the Rockies on May 14-17, at the Sheraton South, Colorado Springs, Colorado. For details, call specialty chairperson Roxanne Bortnick at (303) 226-2048.

~ Julie Crawford, Route 2, Box 110, Delmar, MD 21875