Obedience Class? Yup! I YouTube’d It.

Full disclaimer: I do not teach obedience classes and I have no financial interest in promoting any class or instructor. I simply believe that live classes result in better-trained dogs and handlers than can be produced by a video. Here's why. 

There is some terrific information available on YouTube, and the goofballs are pretty easy to detect. They generally blow themselves up or cut off a finger while telling you how great they are. (Check out this dude who thinks he’s a firearms instructor.)

So why shouldn’t you use a YouTube video for obedience training your dog? It beats rushing to a class after work, is far cheaper, and if your baloney detector goes off mid-class you haven’t paid $125 for six Thursday nights in advance.

The challenge is socialization. Obedience training is only partly about your dog learning to heel, sit and stay. For those skills to have any meaning, the dog must be able to do them virtually anywhere. (OK, the squirrel exhibit at the zoo might be asking too much.)

A dog with a solid “sit-stay” learned at home via YouTube will be a wild banshee their first time at a city park. They’ll be overstimulated by water spraying in the fountain and squealing kids on the grass. If you have a retrieving breed, God help you if there’s an activity happening that involves a ball.

Let me be clear. There are some terrific dog trainers on YouTube. But for that training to be effective you need to get out into the real world, and work through your lessons with other people, dogs and noises around. That’s the advantage of a brick-and-mortar class location. There will be other dogs, doors slamming, other dogs, an instructor talking loudly, other dogs, squeaky toys and more. Did I mention there will be other dogs present? If you’re lucky a family of four will be there with the kids behaving badly while mom and dad work the dog. Bratty, distracting kids are nuggets of gold at a dog obedience class.

The live instructor has other advantages:

  • They can problem solve with your specific dog. While there are some generalities, every breed and every dog within a breed is different.
  • They can problem-solve with YOU. I don’t care if it’s high-end SAR or just basic obedience- the harder half of the team to train is the human.
  • They can reassure you when you’re doing well. Honest confidence means you’re the leader of the pack, and your dog will respond to your sense of self-assurance.

The final benefit of a live class is that you’ll get to see other handlers struggle with their dogs. I’m not trying to be catty or suggest you engage in one-upmanship. I do suggest you file those challenges (and the solutions you observe) in your memory bank. Trust me- eventually your dog will go through the same phase, and you’ll be better equipped to deal with it quickly.

Live classes are the way to go. Good instructors can be found in almost every locality. Do an internet search or check with a trusted pet store or breeder for a recommendation.

Stay Found!

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Beginning SAR – Doing “Searchy Things”

103A solid foundation in the basics is critical to many endeavors, but especially K9 Search and Rescue. The single biggest mistake made by new handlers is trying to move ahead too quickly.

“We popped out in the woods behind the house and I turned the dog loose. He found my neighbor OK, but never came and got me. He’d been doing that part just fine, and now…nothing. What happened?”

What happened is that new handler got too far ahead of him or herself, and was out back trying to do “searchy things.” Small problems, supposedly easy, to move the dog ahead between official training days. But without a mentor around, the problem goes off the rails.

Here’s why this continues to happen with teams everywhere: new dog handlers are enthusiastic about getting certified, going on searches, and helping their community! Those are exactly the attributes I want my teammates to have! I’m not criticizing “searchy things,” but I do want to lay out how risky it can be to freelance during the early part of your training. Something as simple as having an untrained hider do something unexpected and scare your dog can set back your training by months.

Soooo, what do I do there, Mr. Bob?

Walk your dog. That’s all. Until your mentor tells you to do otherwise, just walk your dog in the environment it’ll be searching in. Do that as many nights a week as you can spare.

  • If you’re a trailing handler, walk around town. Around construction sites. Busy intersections. Bus stops. Restaurant exhaust fans.
  • If you’re an air scent handler, take your dog for hikes in the woods. Let it get used to all the smells it’ll encounter in the wilderness. Let it get used to flushing birds or spooking deer. Figure out early if it’s one-a those dogs that has to roll in stinky stuff. (Ask your mentor about crittering and their philosophy for discouraging it.)
  • If you’re doing cadaver work, take your dog to both wilderness and urban areas, as well as inside buildings. Get it used to going from room to room to room in quick succession. The only two buildings your puppy has likely been in are your house, and the vet’s office. (We all know what happened at the vet’s office.)

This is search training. Your dog will never search in a sterile environment. There will always be coyote poop in the woods, and restaurant exhaust along city streets. The best and safest thing you can do to advance your dog’s career in SAR is desensitize it to as many distractions as possible. That way, when you do get to searching, you’ll know it can focus and do its job.

Yes, it’s magic seeing your dog’s head snap when they catch the scent of a subject. Every handler out there wanted to do “searchy stuff” before they were ready. But along with desensitizing your dog, going for walks is fun and builds a great bond between the two of you. That is search training and it will pay off.

Stay Found!

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