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Broadening Your Dog's Horizons

By Tammy Gagne


Chances are good that your dog knows at least a few basic commands. Even pet owners who don’t formally train their dogs still usually teach them to sit or lie down. But many precocious pooches go on to learn a few parlor tricks, such as shaking hands or rolling over—and they’re capable of so much more!

Teaching your dog to follow your instructions is both fun and practical. Dogs who comply with commands are generally the best-behaved animals: trustworthy companions, welcome guests, and in some cases even skilled competitors.

 Basic Training

A solid understanding of basic obedience commands promotes good canine manners, but did you know that it can also protect your dog from harm? When walking your pet, for instance, you may encounter numerous undesirable items on the ground that you want to keep away from him. Your dog, on the other hand, may find these same items nearly irresistible. The only thing that stands between your cringing at the thought of removing a stranger’s discarded gum from your dog’s mouth and actually having to do it is the leave-it command. (If your dog spots the gum before you do, there is also the drop-it command. Definitely a plan-B option, but it too will help your fingers remain germ-free.)

Even more valuable, teaching your dog to come when called is the most important of all training tasks. If your pup ever slips through his collar or rushes out an opened door, his willingness to return to you upon hearing this single word could quite literally save his life. Just because your dog complies with the command around the house, however, does not mean that he will come when called in the face of a tempting distraction. For this reason it is essential to practice the command in a variety of settings and with different distractions at your disposal. Using a long leash for these training sessions will help keep your dog safe.

Dogs with a Purpose

If your dog already knows the basics and has a sweet temperament to boot, you may want to consider boning up for the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. This certification process will open the door to a myriad of activities for both you and your pet. Becoming a Canine Good Citizen is the first step to becoming a therapy dog, for example. In this situation, your pet’s training can lead to rewarding volunteer work you can perform together. Some owners find that their dogs have a special place in their hearts for certain types of patients, such as children or the elderly.

As you train your dog, you get to know him better. You learn what works best—and what does not work at all. Some dogs are highly food motivated, for instance, while others respond better to effusive verbal praise. You may also notice that your dog excels at competition or athletics. If so, continuing his training could lead you to an organized activity like rally obedience or agility. There is even a dance competition for owners and their dogs called canine freestyle. (Yes, both humans and canines perform together in these contests—and have a blast doing so!)

Stepping Out

Whether you plan to compete in an organized activity with your dog or you just want a well-mannered four-legged friend, training is essentially about developing good communication with your pet. Even though we do not speak the same language as our dogs, we can bridge the gap. Good communication helps create trust between people and pets—an essential step for training no matter what your ultimate goal may be.

Some owners enjoy taking their dogs on trips. Other people like to stay closer to home, venturing only as far as their local dog park. In either situation, your pet will be safer if he is well trained. A dog who balks at being placed in a crate will not only be an unpleasant traveling companion but will also be more susceptible to anxiety or even stomach upset. And an untrained dog in an off-leash dog park is an accident waiting to happen.

 Good Boy!

Teaching your dog to behave appropriately in a variety of situations will make life easier for everyone involved. Dogs who bark at or jump on people can make having company over difficult at best—and at worst, uncomfortable enough to drive some of your friends away. A dog who greets guests in a friendly yet nonthreatening manner, on the other hand, can make people enjoy visiting your home.


Good manners are also important when venturing outside the home for routine tasks such as grooming and veterinary visits. Putting off training can make these important errands seem like drudgery. You may even find that a groomer charges extra for uncooperative animals, if only because sprucing them up takes longer.

By leaps and bounds, though, the most important reason to broaden your dog’s horizons through training is to deepen your relationship with your pet. Positive and ongoing training helps create a lasting bond with your dog. It also helps ensure that when it comes time to learn something new, your dog will be ready and willing to add it to his repertoire. The old saying about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks is complete rubbish, but it is a heck of a lot easier to teach any dog a new trick if he sees training as an enjoyable and positive experience  



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