Every dog owner should commit to teaching their pooch proper manners. It is work, and not always easy. Sometimes, it is a struggle. But the results are priceless. The AKC Good Citizen Test is constructed to testify that your dog is under control and is a good citizen. Each exercise on this test is as important as the next. The purpose is that your dog behave appropriately in every day life situations. It is that plain and simple. I enjoy doing performance sports with my dogs. Now I am a senior and find that I have neither the stamina nor the patience that I possessed many years ago. But I remain committed to training my pups, and I continue to enjoy this time we spend together. To achieve that goal you have been working toward is a euphoria like no other.

It’s all about structure

Now I am actively training two dogs: a 1-year-old and a 5-month-old. That is challenging in itself. Add to that working full time. At times, I have the best intentions, but I will fall short of my criteria. When I am in a structured training class, I am definitely more inclined to commit to the task at hand and do the required homework for the following week. Both Swayze and Rue completed their AKC Star Puppy class. I continued to school Swayze to meet and successfully complete the AKC Canine Good Citizen exercises and standards. Although Swayze was settling, his attention span remained short, and he did demonstrate that terrier tenacity. Each exercise was a challenge in its own way, some more so than others.

Selective hearing

The dog is to comprehend and respond to a sit and down command. Well, most of the time, Swayze would sit. However, some of the time, Swayze would choose to have that selective hearing, and just stand and ignore my request to “sit.” Swayze would most often demonstrate this defiance when I was being too gruff and commanding. I had to keep it light and fun for Swayze to respond. With the down exercise, Swayze was much more resistant. He would lock his legs in a battle of will. I concentrated on getting Swayze to relax and comply by keeping it relaxed and highly rewarding with yummy treats.

Too much of a good thing

The dog must accept being touched by someone. This includes petting, checking teeth, lifting and squeezing a paw, examining ears, brushing and gently tugging their tail. The dog should remain calm and accepting. Swayze’s primary problem with this exercise was his friendliness. Desirably, the dog being examined should not maul the person or cover them with kisses, sweet as that is. In these situations, Swayze could not control his licker! The way I practiced this exercise was to continuously socialize Swayze with several people. And one way I did this was by taking him to The Fine Arts Fiesta. Everyone wanted to greet and pet the cute little dog, and I highly rewarded Swayze for remaining calm and not jumping. By the end of our session at the fiesta, Swayze had made many friends, and his behavior became markedly well-behaved as he realized he did not have to be frantic to receive the attention that he craved.

Face to face with a fellow canine

Another exercise was the greeting of a strange dog, where two people approach each other and have a brief conversation while both dogs remain quiet and controlled at their owner’s side. This was a hard one for Swayze as well. His sweet disposition drove him to uncontrolled excitement when another dog approached, but he quickly learned what was expected of him. And his reward was to have the opportunity to play with his canine friends at the conclusion of class.

Learning to stay put

The stay exercise was a tough, tough exercise for Swayze to execute. He just absolutely could not sit still in one place for more than a second. We worked hard on this one. At home, I decided to put Swayze just on the other side of the bathroom door. I gave him a visual barrier of where I wanted him to stay, and then I would quickly return to him using his release word “free” with lavish praise/treats. As we progressed with this exercise, I was so proud to see Swayze’s continued progress as his eyes were fixed on me, waiting for his release word. Swayze did very well on the recall (coming to me) exercise, and this was reinforced by loads of praise, ear scratching, and a happy dance (by us both). The key to training Swayze is to keep it fun. When I become too intense and serious, Swayze will immediately shut down. The out-of-sight exercise is to demonstrate that your dog remain quiet and calm while you briefly exit the room. Swayze did great with this one, unfazed by my exit and happily confident that I would return.

Diploma time

I am SO happy to report that Swayze passed his AKC Canine Good Citizen Test! I am just so proud of him I could bust. He gave it his best, and his best was phenomenal. Now we shall continue our training, working toward the goal of therapy dog certification. Swayze’s official name is now: Moonshadow’s Dirty Dancing, C.G.C.

Speaking of border collie smarts…

As for baby Rue, he will be in training toward the goal of passing his Canine Good Citizen Test, following in his slightly older brother’s footsteps. Rue is smart as a whip – problem is, he usually is two steps ahead of me. That Border Collie mind, and energy, can be intimidating and mind-boggling! Each dog teaches us so much, and Rue is teaching me to persevere! Before we continue our standard training, I think I am going to enroll him in a tricks class, where I am sure he will excel.

Everyone could use a big brother

In the meantime, big brother Smudge acts as a teacher in good manners while at home. When Rue gets overexcited and jumps on me, Smudge will race up from behind and nip Rue in the butt! Funny, but this is actually an alpha dog telling a youngster that his behavior is unacceptable and that he needs to knock it off! I continue to tell you about the training regime with my pups because I want you to know how important it is to teach your dog basic manners. And the fun and bonding experience is treasured time spent together. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Kitty update

I am happy to report that the abandoned kitty I had mentioned in a previous column is safe and in a forever home. She is remaining with the family of her previous owner, who had to move and was unable to take her. A happy ending for all involved. Dog bless.