Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Puppy School: Part 1 - The First Day of School

Stitch went to his first class of obedience training last week at our neighborhood Petco. Mind you, Sitch doesn't have any behavioral issues and in general is a very good dog. But as a pup, he does have his mischief-making moments.

[begin fuzzy flashback sequence]

  • like that time he bolted out the front door as I was heading out to work, hands full with purse, bags, coat, keys, scarf, kitchen sink. We live along a main thoroughfare so imagine my horror ("Quelle horreur!") when my little pup started running towards the street, happy and oblivious as a clam. My heart would have jumped out of my ribcage were it not for the intricate musculoskeletal framework that held it all in.
  • or like that other time when he was so excited to see my roommates come home that he bounded happily towards them, 14-lbs. at full speed. While BFF was holding a hot cup of coffee and her brand new designer handbag. In a way I was glad I wasn't home at that time to see how livid she was. I am happy to report that Stitch came out relatively unscathed (yes he did get in trouble). In response, BFF (half-jokingly) quotes Genghis Khan when dealing with Stitch's puppy-isms: "If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you."

[end fuzzy flashback sequence]

So at my BFF's suggestion, I decided to sign him up for obedience training (only $89.99 with a $20 OFF coupon!). I agreed that Stitch not knowing/responding to the word "Come!" has it's general annoyances (often, he just sits there and gives me this "Duh..." look), but there are other, potentially life-threatening, ramifications to this (see point #1 above).

So with that said, Stitch and I entered the brave new world of doggy obedience. And boy are we glad we did!

Stitch's trainer, a petite, teen-like woman named Ally (Ally, if you're reading this, I mean that as a compliment. You know you rock!), has 7 years of dog training experience. But don't let her diminutive appearance fool you - that girl knows what she's talking about! By the middle of class, Stitch was looking at her with adoring eyes and was in absolute rapt. Not that I was jealous or anything. Hey, I was looking at her with adoring eyes and was in absolute rapt, too. She did reassure me by saying, "Don't feel bad if your dog likes me. I'm feeding him and giving him clear, consistent instructions." I have to admit that did motivate me to be a better mom-student, right along with Stitch.

The class started with introductions. Aside from Stitch, there were 2 other eager pups in the class -- a 7-mo. old (looked-like-a) Border Collie mix named Kota and a 23-mo. old chocolate lab, named Zoe. Kota was in his second week of class and was a few commands ahead of Zoe and Stitch. Zoe needed a little more attention from Trainer Ally since her mom says Zoe only behaves for the men in the house, but not for her.

For that first hour, we covered the basics: "Sit" (plus "Stay" and "Release" while giving them their food bowls), "Watch", "Leave it" and "Wait" before going through the door. I decided (upon Kota's mom's recommendation) to try the clicker training with Stitch. I was a very proud mom! I was so happy and, admittedly, pleasantly surprised to see Stitch following Ally's, and eventually my, instructions so well!

Stitch did particularly well with the "Sit, Stay, Release" but needs more practice on the "Leave It" (he's quick on the draw when it comes to something he wants, especially when it's a treat).

So here are some highlights of what Stitch and I learned in class:

  • Make sure you have a lot of your pet's favorite treats on hand. Break them up into smaller chunks to make them more manageable (and to avoid making your pup an obedient yet pudgy pet)
  • Do not feed your dog before going to obedience school. Otherwise they get full and won't respond to treats. That or they'll respond to the "new" treats presented by the trainer
  • Don't repeat a command over and over again until your pup does it - they'll associate your repetitition as what it takes to get them to do the action. Instead, say the command and just wait quietly until they do it
  • If you're trying clicker training, here's the order:

(1) Say the command
(2) Wait
(3) Pup does the command
(4) Click
(5) Give treat and praise
(Optional 6) Smile at yourself for having a well-behaved dog

Stitch and I are looking forward to our next class and will share the new tricks we've learned!

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