Friday, July 21, 2006

Ella Attempts Obedience

After three months of getting Ella accustomed to us and our environment, we decided to try an obedience class. You might recall, we tried a group agility class a couple months ago after a few private lessons. She shut down and we stopped attending. Since then Scott's been walking her twice a day around the neighborhood. It took several weeks just to get her to walk to the end of our street. Now, she walks up to the dog park at Giddens and if there's a willing companion in the park, she jumps right into play mode. Last week she was invited to a dog birthday party. (I'll let Scott tell you about that since he escorted Ella.) She has become quite the society animal. So, we figured we'd give the group class another shot.

The class was held at the Humane Society animal shelter on Armenia. Ann Farmer, an instructor from Courteous Canine was teaching. As we walked up to the building, I wondered how Ella would feel about this place. She was in the Animal Services shelter for two months and one step away from being euthanized when we got her. The room inside where the class would take place was very small. Ella let us know just how anxious she was by defecating on the floor. Ann spent some time stroking her and gave her lots of treats. She was concerned this might still be too overwhelming for her. But we could tell Ella was relaxing a bit and when the next dog showed up, she wanted to greet it.

There were five of us enrolled, a Jack Russell named Dancer, big chunky lab named Carter, Zoey, a beautiful Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, and Peewee, a not at all small Pit Bull mix. Almost all were rescue dogs. We introduced ourselves and our dogs. We were all couples, bringing our dog children to class. I imagine that's a recent phenomenon. In the past, it might have been a single person, or one parent, or even a child who brought their dog to train. Now, our pets have become a part of our culture. We walk them as a means of being sociable. We take them on dog dates and to dog parties. We consider them in our wills. We expect them to be family members and there lies the need for training. The training is mostly for the owners, so we can learn to communicate with a family member that doesn't speak the same language.

"Sit" was the first lesson in class. We were so proud when Ella was used to demonstrate. It is the one thing we successfully taught her at home. She offers sit whenever she wants attention, so when the trainer approached her she sat like a queen, looked up with pleading eyes and was promptly given a treat. After a few more sits, the teacher moved away to work with th rest of the class. Ella followed her all night and everytime she got near her, she sat. At that point, we knew she was totally relaxed. The rest of the night was spent learning "down" and teaching the dogs to focus on us by looking directly in our eyes on command, which is a crucial training element.

When we packed up to leave, I felt we had already bonded with this new dog family and their caretakers. We were on the road to learning how to communicate with our canine pals. One last note, we bought a new harness on the way out. It's a Gentle Leader called Easy Walk. It's much easier to put on the dog with quick releases under the belly and around the chest. The leash attaches in the front so the dog is no longer inclined to pull against pressure which is natural for them. Ella took to it right away and has been walking much better on the leash. Can't wait until next week so we can show off what Ella has taught us!


Linds said...

Ohhh...Good forr Ella...the star of the class!!!!!

Be carefull with the gentle leader though...We had one and used it on my American Bulldog and it worked well but then I researched it. If she is a puller at all it can cause more damage than good.Because of the amount of leverage a head halter gives, they have been alleged to cause damage to dogs neck or spine if the dog hits the end of the leash full force. Dogs should never be allowed to hit the end of the leash hard while wearing one. Once I did my research on it I quit using it...My American Bulldog is a big puller and I didnt want to harm her neck!

Bloggerwife said...

Were you using the one that looks like a muzzle? The one we have is a harness. It doesn't put any pressure on the head or neck. Thanks for that info. I would have told people about the muzzle type, but I won't recommend it now that I know. Did your research turn up anything negative about the Gentle Leader harness?

Anonymous said...

The gentle leader is great - especially for pullers.
a lady here at my office told me about it - she has 2 large boxers. She is able to walk both dogs on a double lead at the same time with no trouble; and she is a small lady.
I got one for our senior 80 lb pit mix who my husband never taught to walk on a leash properly. I followed the instructions about getting him used to it first and set out for the first short walk and he did great - only a few attempts at pulling. Hint - make sure your lead is long enough so it does not tug the muzzle / head portion out of the correct position.

Linds said...

No not the harness...we used the muzzle looking one...We actually went through 2 of them...The first day my Am Bull stuck her paw in and broke it! So we returned it and got another and she did ok for a few days and then I got the warning from a friend and researched and found articles about spinal damage. I would assume the harness it ok though...the other ones are not good cause when you correct the dog you kink their neck...might not seem bad but when they pull like my girl...she walks with her nose in her neck the whole time! THe harness doesnt cause the neck kink so I am guessing it should be OK!

Anonymous said...

Where did you buy the Gentle Leader? I have seen the muzzle type at the pet store but not the halter one.

Bloggerwife said...

We bought the Gentle Leader harness from the Courteous Canine trainer. They have a small pet supply business. I imagine you can find the harness on their website (click on the link in the blog article about Ella and obedience) The company that makes the harness is called Premier. You could always try them online and see if they sell direct from the factory.

Molly said...

I actually found that same one that courteous canine sells at Petsmart. Unfortunately my dog is too small and it kept coming off.