Good Dog, Smart Dog

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by Hilary Kraus

Here’s a simple rule for dog owners to live by: Be calm and stop screaming. 

Spouses, children, siblings and BFFs are not the only creatures who don’t respond positively to the negative vibes of a yeller. 

“If there’s one person in the family who is screaming, the dog will not respect that person, said Abby Bird, owner of Alphadog Training Academy in Bluffton. “Dogs tend to respect voices that are flat or even deep. High pitch represents either a lack of control—and dogs will see that as a weakness—or that the person wants to play. Therefore, the person doesn’t really need to be listened to seriously.”

And who doesn’t want their lovable four-legged family member to listen and obey? "There are ways," assured Hilton Head Island dog trainer Alison Armao, owner of Leader of the Pack. 

“The first and most important thing you can do is establish a bond with your pet and teach your pet his place in the pack,” Alison said. “Getting your dog to be smart starts with socialization, obedience training and, of course, love. Some dogs learn more quickly than others and some are more eager to please their masters.”

When Abby and Alison were presented with the fundamental questions of how to get your dog to learn basic commands; how to housebreak your dog; and how to get your dog to return on command when running away, they offered the following wise advice:

Basic Commands

Abby: Dogs are smarter than you think, so don’t dumb them down. Studies have shown they can learn hundreds of words!

The success formula is very simple. When training, use positive commands with a reward system that includes  petting, praise, treats, toys and playing with your pet. Get everybody on board. The biggest downfall is a lack of consistency. If each family member is doing his or her own thing, this confuses your dog. Being patient is critical. Always train for success, not for failure.

Alison: The most important command is “come.” The basic commands taught in puppy class are “come,” “sit,” “down,” “heel” and “stay.” These can be expanded upon in adult obedience class and as the dog matures. The owner can teach “come” by starting with their puppy on a leash backing away from puppy and offering a treat when the puppy comes to them.

House Training

Abby: Crate train your dog. This means no potty pads or anything soft in the crate initially. Take the dog out on a leash on a regular schedule and write it down so everyone can participate. Do not get frustrated. It is up to you to know what their schedule is; not for them to know yours! 

Teach them to ring a bell hung next to the door when they need to go out. Take their paw and have them ring it while you say “let’s go out.” Always give them a treat outside after they have pottied.

Alison: Use a crate and bells on the door.  It is important to keep the space small for the dog until he or she is housebroken. Giving a puppy full run of the house usually means a lot of cleanup.

Not Running Away

Abby: That is not the right question. It is how to have your dog come when called.

Show them your positive and playful body language and voice.

Do not get angry! Offer rewards for coming such as playing with their favorite toy or treats. Teach them to chase you instead of you chasing them. Play hide and seek, so the game is to come and find you, not you looking for them.

Alison: If you have a dog that runs away, only try calling the dog when you can go and get the dog if he or she ignores you. This usually means your dog needs to drag a leash. Give your dog lots of praises and/or a treat when the dog complies with your command. If you take a couple of steps backward when calling, the dog is more likely to come. If your dog is running from you and you are in a safe environment, walk away from your dog. The dog usually will follow.  When they come, offer lots of praise.

And then comes the treat

Paige Grisette, owner of Red Rover dog-grooming service on New Orleans Road on Hilton Head, suggests the quality of treats should have the same high standards as food. “Super-premium treats with no fillers,” Paige said. “Raw, soft, crunchy, whatever they are made up of, I’d stick with all natural ingredients from the U.S.”

Janet Cully, owner of Tail Wiggles in The Village at Wexford on Hilton Head, suggests rewarding your dog with small treats. “This way they’re not getting a huge biscuit every time they get a treat. Smaller, bite-sized treats are broken off easily and you’re not giving your dog too many calories.”

About the Trainers

Abby Bird is the owner of Alphadog Training Academy. She has been a trainer for 30 years and has trained more than 7,000 dogs (and their owners) in Beaufort and Jasper counties. Abby is the senior dog trainer at Petco in Bluffton, where she offers both group and individual classes. She also is a recommended trainer for four local rescue groups.

Alison Armao is the owner of Leader of the Pack and has been training dogs for approximately 15 years. Alison has trained hundreds of dogs and is a top referral of pet stores Tail Wiggles and Red Rover. She also teaches classes at Southpaw Pet Resort, does private in-home training and works for local rescue organizations.

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