Sometimes I hear handlers say that they are not training beyond the Companion Dog level. What does that mean? In this age of education and research into canine behavior and teaching techniques, I would not expect to hear thinking in that mold. Dogs need mental and physical exercise, and there are so many avenues one can take nowadays besides obedience. What does such a person plan on doing with their companion dog for the next ten years?
Sometimes clubs and schools may think they lose control over their students if they don’t keep them in “lockstep.” They may be using outmoded lesson plans and boring training schedules. For example, I used to think that only private trainers could move a handler along and avoid boredom for both handler and dog. I must admit there are some basics that need to be routinely done. I used to be a dance ice skater, and we had to practice the “compulsory figures” over and over. Dog training has its “compulsories” as well, but there are ways to move through them with fairly rapid success.
Since I do not know what your “basics” consist of, I will tell you what we do in my school. Some of my staff are actively training in our local dog training club, so I know that these techniques will work in that format as well. The secret lies in introducing exercises beyond the traditional basics early on. Do not get caught up in waiting until one level of obedience is accomplished before starting training exercises that are in Open and Utility.
When it comes to obedience, I believe the handler will gain satisfaction when a focus is on advanced exercises if they are presented without pressure and in a relaxed manner. That is where the fun is even for people who do not have the goal of earning titles. Not everyone wants to compete, but most want their dogs to gain skills that will be both fun for the dog and useful for the handler. The advanced exercises are fun, and mentally stimulating for the human and the dog! Too many people stop training when they have completed their Companion Dog title and that is just when the fun can really begin. Don’t spend all your time drilling, as that can bore both of you. Introducing new things to your dog will make the “drill work” easier.
Before your dog is actually working off leash, start teaching a retrieve. Who said you have to wait and get into “lock-step”? I have yet to meet a dog that has learned to retrieve that has also not learned to enjoy it. Don’t say, “But I have a … .” I had retrieving Pharaoh Hounds, retired racing Greyhounds, and many students with nontraditional obedience dogs that enjoyed retrieving. Once a sound retrieve is established, then the team of handler and dog are well on their way to learning exercises that will “knock the socks” off of their friends! For example, prepare for Utility by starting on the scent articles. You don’t need to go out and buy a competition set of articles. One of our staff members used metal rings from canning jars for her Champion Shiba Inu in the Utility ring in both UKC and AKC trials. If a dog does a stand, one might as well start preparing for a moving stand and a stand in motion. From this point, it is not a great leap to learn a Utility examination. Try training for the Utility go-out. In the beginning I use food or a toy, so there is no pressure, and the dog may not have even stepped into the Novice ring! My Boxer, Samson, kayaks with me in “safe water.” We live in Georgia, so we have to watch for alligators! He knows how to balance getting into my kayak or canoe due to his balance training on the teeter-totter. He is allowed to run the trails or islands due to his reliability to the many commands I have taught him. This gives us both freedom that we can enjoy together.
Research has shown that humans start losing brain cells at around 40 years of age. I know; I am in BIG trouble! However, there is a way to slow down this loss … you must learn new things! This does not mean to do a few things very well. It means to try to learn new things. I don’t know at what age our dogs begin to lose brain cells, but it probably works much the same as in humans. There are so many ways to do crossover training with your dog that your training sessions will remain interesting and stimulating for both of you and many new things will be learned.
The bottom line is – don’t get caught in lock-step. Advance!