Good canine citizens like this are not born that way, The Daily Review Outdoor Writer John Flores said. (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of John K. Flores)
The ABCs of good canine citizenship
Several years ago, a rancher friend of mine, who lives in the Texas panhandle town of Wellington, and I were exchanging philosophy one afternoon when he said to me, “Every man should have one good wife, one good horse and one good dog in his life.”
I pondered over that statement, thinking to myself my wife Christine and I had been married 30 years at that time. I didn’t own a horse nor had any plans to. But, I did own a good dog. In fact, I’ve owned two good dogs in my life. I guess that makes up for not owning a horse.
I might also add both were hunting dogs. One was an English setter named Bud, who was one amazing upland birddog. The second was Brie, a chocolate Labrador retriever, who among my family members and friends is legendary.
I could write and fill volumes of pages concerning both of their exploits in the field, but that would be bragging and I don’t want to come off that way. What I do want to say is neither Bud nor Brie just came along and were “good” dogs.
On the contrary, when they were puppies, I didn’t have a clue how’d they turn out nor do most pet owners starting out.
Most folks just like the idea of owning a family dog, whether it’s to cuddle up on the couch with, protect the homestead or just plain to pal around with.
Others are more serious about canine ownership, because the dog has a specific purpose, which may include police and rescue work, service work as a guide and yes, even hunting.
What we all can agree on is no one likes a neighbor’s dog that chases you during your afternoon walk around the block, barks incessantly at night or through the fence when friends are over for barbeque or you find in your backyard when your prized female comes into heat.
In short, “good” dogs become that way through training. What’s more, long consistent hours of training.
When I was training Brie, she became part of my daily routine. I’d get up an extra hour before work and spend 30 minutes with her.
In the afternoon when I got home from work, I’d spend 30 minutes to an hour with her. This went on for her first eight months.
When I came in from Brie’s training one afternoon, Christine said to me, “I don’t mind you going out to play with your girlfriend when you get home, as long as you come in and give me a kiss first.”
So, what was I doing all those months? I was training Brie the ABCs of being a good citizen: obedience in the form of “heel,” “come,” “sit” and “stay.” I also taught her “down,” “leave it” and “quiet.”
All of these were taught before I threw her the first dummy to retrieve. There is nothing worse than being on a duck hunt and your buddy can’t get his dog back into the blind.
There’s no way in a single newspaper column I can cover all of techniques of how to train your dog but can offer some tips.
First of all, socialize and don’t humanize your dog. Yes, they become like family the longer they’re with you, but they’re not. You are replacing their pack. They’re not replacing your children. But, start socializing immediately at eight weeks.
If they are a big dog — like a lab — at night while watching television, lay your legs across them. Tug on their ears gently from time to time. Groom them while everyone is around. Socializing provides them with confidence and reduces shyness.
But, more importantly, it helps them to know they are the lowest in the family pecking order, where they won’t take advantage of the small children in your clan.
Years ago, my 5-year-old niece went out to play with Brie in our backyard. She loosely slipped a string under Brie’s collar and walked her around the yard saying, “Come, Brie. Sit, Brie. Stay, Brie.”
Brie did everything she was told.
Second, take them for their walks when they’re a puppy to places like Wal Mart, where there are lots of people around and many distractions. While there, go through your ABCs – heel, sit and stay. This, too, builds confidence, but it also reinforces what you’ve already taught.
Third, I never gave my dogs treats after they performed well, nor did I use a shock collar in the process, zapping them when they disobeyed. I’m not against either. I’m just saying dogs respond to positive reinforcement and really want to please their masters. You are the one who has to set the stage for successful outcomes, not them.
Lastly, be patient and consistent. Dogs become good citizens through consistency in their training. Some of you coached Dixie Youth baseball teams and spent hours on end exposing your kids to fielding grounders, fly balls and taking swings in the batting cage. It was repetition that made them ballplayers. It’s the same with dogs.
There are a few books I’d recommend reading if you’re trying to figure out how to best train your dog. Richard A. Wolters’ “Water Dog,” is a classic. For those looking for a pet and not a gun dog, Wolters’s “Family Dog,” will help you get Fido on the straight and narrow road to being a good citizen.
Robert Milner’s “Retriever Training – A Back-to-Basics Approach,” is full of excellent information on how to get your canine responding to simple commands.
Spring and fall tend to be the time when puppies are being born, where lots of guys want to have them ready by the big-duck season. By beginning your work in April, it gives you seven to eight months to have a “good” dog in the blind with you come winter.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Flores is The Daily Review’s Outdoor Writer. If you wish to make a comment or have an anecdote, recipe or story you wish to share, you can contact Flores at 985-395-5586 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his FACEBOOK page, gowiththeflo outdoors.