You have questions about dog obedience training, Charleston Animal Society has answers

  • Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Allie, the Yellow Labrador, demonstrates that with clear communication, she can perform a perfect sit. COURTESY OF C.C. CASALE


The Charleston Animal Society and the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission (CCPRC) introduced a new series of obedience training programs for dogs. All ages, temperaments and sizes are welcome.

Training sessions for two different age groups are led by C.C. Casale, behavior and training manager at Charleston Animal Society and owner of SouthPaw Pet Care. For details and a schedule, please visit: ww2.charlestonanimalsociety.org/we-offer-training-classes-at-a-charleston-county-park-near-you/

Moultrie News: Can any dog really be trained – even the most (currently) disobedient ones?

C.C. Casale: Absolutely! Unless the dog has a cognitive disability, which might inhibit his learning or ability to retain information, then every dog – and even cats – can be trained. Yes, even cats. In relation to “disobedient” pets, it is important to consider a few factors:

• How long has the inappropriate behavior been “practiced.”

• Is your dog being reinforced (rewarded) for the inappropriate behavior?

• Is the behavior preventable before it starts?

Many people are pleasantly surprised at how much fun training classes can be. We aren’t trying to turn pet dogs into “Best in Show” material. The goals are to equip people and their pets with easy-to-use skills for real-life situations and help them feel more prepared to problem solve should future training needs arise.

MN: Could you break down those factors a bit for us? For example, how do owners mistakenly reward their dogs for bad behavior?

CC: Sure. Let’s take a very common behavior issue like jumping when greeted by people. Dogs live in the present, and all of their behaviors are goal-oriented. From a dog’s perspective, if they jump it is to receive attention. Chances are that the dog who jumps now was allowed to jump up when they were a small puppy when they did this in an effort to get closer to people’s hands and faces for attention.

Now that this pup is a full-grown pooch, the dog sees no reason to stop this behavior since it still gets him or her attention. Because the jumping has been “practiced” for quite some time, it will be more difficult to stop the behavior, though not impossible. It will call for patience and consistent communication of the appropriate behavior you want the dog to exhibit. Though it may seem to us to be negative attention when we tell him, “no,” “off!” or push him away, we have to remember that these human actions are likely perceived by the dog to be similar to dog-play and barking or, at the very least, any negative attention is still attention and fulfilling his goal.

In other words, he is being reinforced for jumping. Trainers who do not use force to teach pets can show you easy techniques, which will reward having “four on the floor” for polite greetings and removing all reinforcement for jumping.

MN: Is there an ideal age for training a dog?

CC: Well, this is an interesting question. The basic answer is that it is ideal to train a pet when they are young and have not yet learned any bad habits. No matter a pet’s age, however, it takes more effort to change a behavior than to train the desired behavior from the start.

The longer an animal has practiced a behavior, whether desired or not, the more ingrain that behavior becomes in the animal’s repertoire. Another factor to successful training, which I stress with clients, is that every single interaction with your pet is in fact “training.”

MN: What are some of the most essential training cues every dog should know and react appropriately to?

CC: Before attempting to teach your dog basic skills such as “sit” and “down,” make sure he is skilled at paying attention to you. How many times do you have to say your dog’s name before he decides to give you the time of day? Without his undivided attention during training, progress will be slow and frustration will seep into training sessions for both you and your dog.

Good trainers can give you exercises to help focus your dog’s attention on you. Building this connection between you and your furry friend will be handy on a daily basis and will go far in keeping your pet out of harm’s way.

Further to that, it is essential to teach your dog a solid recall, or “come,” as well as “leave it” to prevent dangerous items from being picked up off the ground or licked. I am also a big fan of “wait.”

I use it every time I take my pets somewhere in the car before I open the back of my SUV to let them out. They want to jump right out, but I use the “wait” cue and they stand at the edge until I have secured them on their leashes. Once I give them the “let’s go” cue, they know it’s safe to jump out.

MN: Can a dog’s training be more important than just showing your friends that your dog can roll over on command?

CC: Oh my goodness, yes! Today, one of the main reasons for pet surrender to shelters is behavior issues. Sadly, most of these “issues” are fairly easily remedied through training or behavior modification. Quality pet behavior education saves lives while encouraging a greater understanding of our four-legged friends. It helps pet owners arrive at effective, long-term solutions that will have a positive impact on their relationship with their pets and creates mutual compassion and respect.

Training can be fun for both animal and owner, so why not get out there and enjoy each other’s company? In this modern age, we have the ability to utilize humane methods for training in order to keep animals in their homes and out of shelters.

MN: What are some cool things that the Animal Society offers with this dog training that sets this apart?

CC: All class instructors at Charleston Animal Society are Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT). Certification is not currently necessary to be a dog trainer; however, the Animal Society is a supporter of trainers receiving true certification like the CPDT.

This means trainers have passed rigorous testing, have a large body of experience and attend continuing education classes annually. These trainers are at the top of their game and educated on the most modern, force-free methods.

Another aspect that sets the classes at Charleston Animal Society apart is that they are designed with fun in mind. Our latest addition, “Wag It! Games” is training disguised as games. The exercises were designed for those who wish to enjoy a looser version of dog activities such as agility, rally and the like. You can “win” in Wag It! Games, because the movements in each exercise are not as restricting as in traditional dog sports.

For example, dogs have a chance to walk on either your left or right side during course runs, exercises are not timed and the height of equipment pieces is lower and at less extreme angles. You can check out fun video samples on our website.

We asked the community via surveys what types of classes they needed and where they needed them. We were told classes we hold at the shelter are helpful, but asked that we expand into our supporters’ neighborhoods. To me, the most interesting survey feedback was that people who had not previously enrolled in classes believed they could train their own pets only to later deal with communication breakdowns and frustrating behaviors. Our plan is to give our followers the tools for success.

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