Training Tales

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha

This morning dawned clear and sunny, enticing Sasha and I to head outside despite the freezing temperature. We had the neighborhood park all to ourselves, so I traded leash for the 30′ long line and let her zigzag across the park in joyous abandon. (I’ve discovered that training time tends to be most productive when play time comes first.)

I can happily report she’s come a long way in our nine months together, with some skills sharper than others. (Isn’t that true of us all?) She’s happy, eager for adventures every day, and sweet-natured to boot. She’s a terrific guard dog who keeps us company no matter what we’re doing, and even keeps track of Buddy the Cat, whose bramble patch adventures will appear in Dangerous Deeds (book 2 of the Waterside Kennels series).

As you  can see from the photo above, we’re making good progress with the stand-stay command. We’re also doing well with sit-stay and down-stay, which I’m using to discourage her from lunging toward vehicles as they pass by.

The basic skills are regular part of our everyday training time, and now I’m shifting focus a bit to concentrate on the specific skills needed to earn the to earn the AKC Canine Good Citizen certification. I need to spend more time on every test item, even the ones she’s doing well. Here’s a rundown of our progress with each test item:

Accepting a friendly stranger
Sasha is perfectly agreeable to having strangers approach in pet-friendly stores, out on the trail, or in the park. She’s even polite to strangers walking through the neighborhood, although she’ll almost always have something to say to them as they approach. The test requires the dog show no sign of resentment or shyness, but there’s no (apparent) requirement to be silent. That’s good news for my talkative girl!

Sitting Politely for Petting
I’ve been coaching her on this one for a while. She’s okay with adults provided they don’t run up and thrust a hand in her face or grab her. (And really, who likes that?) She’s calm with strollers and toddlers, a bit cautious around older boys, and tends to stare at kids on bikes and scooters as though trying to figure out what they’re doing.

Appearance and Grooming
Thanks to the fabulous work of master groomer Alicia Broyles of Towne and Kountry Grooming and Dr. Hynes and Dr. Stropes of Crossover Veterinary Clinic, Sasha is calm and polite when standing for examination (and that’s why we practice the stand-stay). She doesn’t mind her ears being checked and quickly mastered the foot command–my own invention motivated by the need to wipe the mud off her feet after outdoor play time.

Out for a Walk (walking on a loose lead)
Sasha is smart and knows the difference between walking on the leash and having the long line clipped on, which is her signal to forget heeling and just have fun. Once on the leash, though, and she’s (mostly) a well-mannered dog who enjoys adding her own running commentary of mutters and low-voiced yips, yodels, and the ocassional bark.

Walking Through a Crowd
With the farmer’s market off the square for the winter, we’re relying on pet-friendly stores and the area parks for crowd work. Our local Lowes home improvement store has a pet-loving manager and a friendly crew, so we make a point of browsing there frequently. This has also proved good practice for the “sitting politely for petting” test. When other dogs react by barking or lunging, Sasha just sits or stands quietly at my side.

I follow the same protocol at PetSmart, but that’s due to inattentive owners with dogs on extended leashes. Neither Sasha nor I are fans of those leashes, but she enjoys our time there because she’s allowed to browse the items on the shelves!

Sit and Down on Command and Staying in Place
This is working well, likely because I take every opportunity to practice the sit-stay and down-stay when we’re out and about. Sure, it takes longer to finish the walk, but Sasha is rewarded with frequent sniff breaks in between heeling and the sit, down, and stay on command, not to mention the praise lavished on her by passersby who inevitably ask, “How do you get her to do that?” (The answer is “Practice every day.”)

Coming When Called
The test involves a distance of 10 feet, but we practice using the 30′ long line as well as the 6′ standard leash. Our challenge here is to have a consistent and reliable recall despite distractions. For Sasha, those distractions can be squirrels, birds, airplanes, passing vehicles, etc.

Reaction to Another Dog
This one is definitely a work in progress. As the test is described, “The dogs should show no more than casual interest in each other. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler.” We haven’t reached the “casual interest” stage. In the neighborhood, Sasha is on alert but interested: head up, tail up, body language and vocalization signaling excited interest.

The other challenge is that the neighborhood dogs always want to get up-close-and-too-personal with Sasha. We need to spend more time out of the neighborhood and along the lake trail, which is popular with dog walkers. I’ll gradually decrease the distances between us and the others. I’ll note, though, that Sasha participated in the annual Dog Walk back in May and handled being in a crowd of people and dogs with no problem at all.

Reaction to Distraction
More practice needed here. Any suggestions?

Supervised Separation
Sasha is comfortable with the down-stay as long as I’m in sight. This test, however, has me going out of sight for three minutes. So far, we haven’t made it past one minute.

The test description also says that the dog “does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness.” She won’t bark or pace unnecessarily, but she does have that tendency toward a running commentary, even if it’s quiet. I’m open to suggestions here, as well!

All in all, we’re both making reasonably good progress, and I’m looking forward to mastering the CGC and moving on to new canine challenges!

8 thoughts on “Training Tales

  1. This is new certificate for me. When I was active it was not available. It sounds very similar try Companion Dog title. My dgs all earned theirs in three shows. There is a different in home obedience and show. Goo Luck with your training

    • Bettylouise, the CGC has been around since 1989 (I think!) but it wasn’t considered a title until just a few years ago. While the CD is only for purebred dogs eligible for AKC competition, the CGC is for all dogs. Sasha is a purebred but I didn’t receive her official AKC registration papers when she came to me. She’s now recognized by the AKC through their Purebred Alternative Listing program so we can compete. if all goes well, we’ll try Rally Obedience in the coming year!

      • Thanks that was about the time I left obedience and dog shows. I do remember that there was talk of a good citizen for all dogs. I am curious I thought it was AKC policy that the papers belong to the dog. Has that
        changed? I guess you can sale pure breed dogs that are not AKC. I know of a case where the party own a black
        lab and Visla. Of couse, the puppies look like labs and they were sold as such, but without papers.

  2. Does Sasha have a “leave it” command? That is what we use with our service dogs when we need/want them to either no touch something, someone or to ignore an environmental distraction. I suspect Sasha is bright enough to learn leave it and generalize the command to a variety of situations. My boy recently lost his hearing. It is quite a challenge to convert all of his known verbal commands to hand signals. Seems we each have new challenges to master with our beautiful dogs.

    • Sasha does indeed know the “leave it” command and we use it often in the house. She’s also good with it on walks when we want her to stop sniffing, or to stop her attempts to herd the ducks at the pond. I have not (yet!) been successful in getting her to generalize the command to meeting dogs, though. Any tips for encouraging her in that direction?

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