Q: My Toy Poodle nips at my hands and collapses when I try to practice our obedience lessons. What can I do to get her to at least stop this behavior? I really want her to like training.
A: Your problem is not so much an obedience problem, as a dominance/pack problem. I could tell you to be firmer and quicker at correcting her, but the behaviors she is exhibiting go much deeper. Dogs are pack animals. They learn pack positions and responsibilities from the time they are whelped and live with their litter. Transfer to living with a human family/pack carries the same set of rules in the dog’s eyes. Size does not matter, all dogs live by this code. Correcting this problem may carry over to changing various ways of dealing with everyday life with your dog, and may call for some changes that may seem totally unrelated to the problem. Such routines as when the dog is fed, where she sleeps, and how you play with her are effecting your obedience lessons. Your Poodle has the idea that she ranks above you in “pack order”; therefore, she enjoys “putting you in your place” when you attempt to train her. A dog who feels she ranks above her trainer in the pack, will not take directions from a pack member who she sees as inferior. You refer to “practicing your obedience lessons”. If this means that you are already taking formal lessons at a reputable training club, talk to your teacher about some “dominance” exercises to practice, and what you can change about your daily habits. If you are not doing formal lessons, but are attempting to self train using a book or video, I suggest you talk to a professional trainer, behaviorist, or check out and read some of the many books available on dog behavior. A professional needs to see your situation, talk to you, determine the areas in which your dog feels dominant. By addressing these areas properly, they can be corrected.
Q: I took my small dog to obedience school when he was young, but he’s forgotten everything he learned. How can I get him to remember his lessons?
A: You were very wise to take your dog to obedience at a young age, and he hasn’t forgotten what he learned. Note I say “what he learned.” If you practiced, and he was heeling, staying, and coming when called at his graduation from this class, he did learn the commands and will never forget them. Dogs need repetition, and to routinely practice their commands, even after class is over. As with any other lessons you may have learned throughout your life, lack of continued practice leads to becoming rusty. You have to review and begin practicing all of the exercises your dog learned back in school.
You could re-enroll your dog in a beginner’s class at the obedience school. Repeating the class will not hurt your dog at all. You will be surprised how the soon the lessons he learned come back to him, and you will probably end up as the star of the class. If you attended a class where they gave you a training manual, or passed out homework sheets, you should have saved them, and should locate them, reread them, and start practicing the exercises they outline. If you have forgotten the mechanics of executing an exercise, and do not have access to homework or a past training manual; there are numerous books and videos for sale, or at the library; about dog training. It is a matter of practicing all of the exercises for around 15 minutes each day; and you will be amazed how the lessons come back to you and your dog.
Q: What kind of collar should I use on my Lhasa Apso? I’m afraid to use a chain collar, but he pulls hard enough to choke when we go for a walk.
A: Most dogs should have two collars. Every dog should have a “buckle around the neck collar”. This is the collar he or she should wear every day, and especially when traveling. Onto this collar his license, rabies tag, and identification tag with your phone number should be attached. Many small dogs respond well enough to be trained using only this collar. If firmer control is needed, the chain collar, or a prong collar can be quite effective. Collars are pieces of training equipment, and no piece of training equipment is necessarily good or bad. Used correctly, with some instruction from a professional, either of the above collars are effective and humane. Used incorrectly, they can be instruments of torture.
Chain and prong collars are solely training instruments, and should only be placed around the dog’s neck while training, then removed at the end of the lesson. The fact that your Lhasa is choking, means that you are not using the chain collar correctly, and should not use it until you get some instruction on its proper use from a professional obedience instructor. Used correctly, the Chain collar should tighten only briefly, and hang loosely around the dog’s neck through most of the training session or walk.
A stronger alternative to the chain collar, is the prong collar. Before taking this approach, a professional obedience instructor should be consulted to learn its proper use. It looks like a “wicked instrument of torture,” but used properly can be more humane than the chain collar. Advantages are that it does not choke the dog or constrict the windpipe. Another advantage is that it does not wear the hair off around the dog’s neck, which is a plus with long-haired dogs. It pinches rather than chokes, and, like the chain collar, when used properly, should hang loose most of the time, and only be tightened briefly.
You should learn and practice some attention exercises that teach your dog to focus on you. A dog who’s attention is riveted on its owner during a walk, cannot possibly be pulling on the leash and choking.
A brief word about the alternative to collars that is still available at pet stores, the harness. Harnesses are for pulling. Their proper use is on sled dogs, and dogs doing draft work. Attempting to walk a dog using a harness instead of a collar, gives the dog an advantage at pulling and being out of control. So, like other pieces of training equipment, a harness is great if you have a team of sled dogs, or are teaching your Rottweiler, or Newfoundland to pull a cartload of firewood to the house. On the average pet dog, small or not, a harness is a bad idea.
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