AMERICANS WOULD BE LOST WITHOUT THEIR DOGS.
They hunt us down when we're missing in the woods, under suspicion or under rubble. They give low-vision and blind people eyes and many of us companionship.
In turn, we walk them, talk to them and open specialized grooming shops to appease their every whim. Some Humboldt County residents even throw birthday parties for them.
They've been the objects of Gary Larson's affection in many a Far Side cartoon, where the independent nature of this creature believed to be the direct descendant of the wolf is anthropomorphized and celebrated.
The reason for the animal attraction is simple. How many creatures in this world have the ability to unconditionally love, honor and obey?
Nowhere is the devotion more apparent than dog obedience school.
Teaching a new dog old tricks is but half the challenge of raising and living with man's and woman's best friend. Dog owners must remain consistent and follow through, just as if they were teaching children, trainers say.
"Routine and consistency is just what these guys are going to thrive on. They're very much like children only more responsive," said Jennifer Kramer, Blue Lake dog obedience trainer and mother of four.
"Any dog can be taught anything with persistence. Some (take) more persistence than others."
Kramer comes to class with her own example of success Huff, a 4-year-old Corgi, which is Welsh for dwarf. The champion show dog watched quietly as a new group of eager puppy trainees were ushered in for the first day of class Saturday at the Prasch Hall Activity Center in Blue Lake.
This fall is the city's third six-week session by Kramer. The 20-year veteran is teaching a course for older dogs on Thursday nights, in addition to the Saturday morning class for puppies.
Last weekend's class brought a mix of dog breeds among the four new candidates. Their owners picked up a flyer, welcoming them to kindergarten puppy class.
The difference in attitude and personality in breed is instantly apparent as Kramer called the pups in the middle of the roller rink floor for their time of puppy-to-puppy classroom "social interaction."
Social was an understatement for a 3-month-old Bullmastiff-pitbull mix named Buddy who, like President Clinton's dog, represents No. 9 on the top 10 most common names chosen by dog owners in the United States. Max is No. 1, followed by Sam, Lady, Bear, Smokey, Shadow, Kitty, Molly and Brandy, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Buddy, owned by Ryan Patterson of Arcata, instantly found a play buddy of the same size in Sasha, a semi-shy, 3-month-old blue German shepherd. As the two romped around the gym, Buddy raised his paw and nipped at his new classmate several times. Kramer approved the behavior as "play initiation."
Kramer said she has had fights among canines in her classes before, but these differences are fairly easy to break up. Usually "they can work it out" when the dogs are close in age. And for puppies, gender plays no part in the interaction, she added.
Meanwhile, Roxie, a 3-month-old Yorkshire terrier, would have nothing to do with Buddy and Sasha's behavior at first and pranced back and forth clicking her toenails on the gym floor as if apprehensive with the exercise. Pepper, a 4-month-old poodle, found solace sticking close to her master.
In the first lesson, Kramer urged the dog caretakers to get their canines out in different public settings for homework, so they're "not uptight about it later." While out on the town, it's important to loosen the leash so the dog relaxes, she said. If the leash is drawn back tightly and quickly, the dog may sense "something is wrong and may get territorial" with a passerby on a chance encounter, she explained.
"That's what leads to dog aggression. But a lot of that comes from the owner," she said. Puppies that do not receive enough human contact at about 3 months old grow up to be difficult dogs, according to dog trainers.
To get this new group in the groove, Kramer instructed the dog owners seated on the floor to pass their pets to the person on the left. Soon after the exchange, Buddy began gnawing on the arm of Roxie's owner.
"No," said Dawn McGuire of Arcata sternly to Buddy. With the attention span of a 2-year-old child, he stopped for a few seconds, then continued his teething fix.
Kramer used the incident as a double lesson. She told the group that it's best to use "no" as half a command. She recommended using "don't bite" or "don't touch" for the common behavioral problem.
Breaking negative dog behaviors requires the help of others with experience.
From urinating on the floor and eating feces to excessively barking and crying, the Pet Care Forum on line lists a wide array of negative behaviors puppies and grown dogs may exhibit. One owner of a 9-month-old St. Bernard complained her "destructive, giant pup" eats or chews anything around the house, including a toaster.
The forum's on-line trainer, Kathy Diamond, advised the woman to give the dog "100 percent supervision," use the scent of a bitter apple spray on items he may chew and praise him when he chews his own toys.
Another gardener complained on line that her dog digs in her flower bed. Diamond suggested the dog emulates the woman's actions and instructed her to give the dog a place of her own to dig in.
Whatever the consensus in command to break negative behaviors, be consistent, Kramer said as the key to effective dog training. And choose commands carefully to avoid confusion later.
Kramer recommended using the word "off" instead of "down" to remove a dog-in-training off the sofa. If a dog trainer uses "down," a different word is needed for when the dog learns to "lie down."
Dogs learn what you teach them, retaining a vocabulary potential of about 200 words, Kramer said, adding that their names are the most important words they learn.
For "anything (that) you find yourself interacting with your dog, find a word for it," she said.
What's the toughest command to teach a dog? Training search-and-rescue dogs is tough because they must "go find," Kramer replied.
Puppies may be taught commands as early as 8 weeks old. This is young enough to impulsively run in the street in front of a car, dog experts stress as the main reason for training.
"Everything you can do with a puppy is going to have an impression on it," she said. That's why she emphasized using positive approaches and practice, practice, practice. It's suggested a dog owner spend up to 15 minutes at least twice a day on the task. Still, the sessions should be fun, with lots of praise and rewards for puppies, experts advise.
Still, dogs are pack animals and often behave that way, Kramer said of the importance of having a firm hand and tone.
Dogs feed off a social hierarchy that, when established effectively, places humans on top, Kramer said. When a dog obeys simple commands like "come," the animal enjoys showing compliance and respect for its master.
"They either need a leader or they want to be a leader. There's no in between," she said. That's why she advises not to raise and train two puppies at once. "They tend to play off each other's behavior.
"Dog training is a lot like dancing and singing. Timing and tonality are essential to success," she said, later adding body language to the list.
"It's the (dog owners) who are hard to teach," Kramer said.
For each session, Kramer limits the class to 15 participants, to avoid canine chaos. The puppy training course costs $30, while older dog obedience classes cost $40 for the six-week period. The next round of sessions in Blue Lake for both the puppy and dog training courses is slated to begin Nov. 6.
Beyond the private trainers on hand in Humboldt County, the city of Eureka also offers Joan Maxwell's dog obedience classes at the Adorni Center Oct. 5 for puppies. The cost is $45. On Nov. 16, a course at the same spot for older dogs costs $59.
The city of Arcata's next round of classes taught by Delilah Huck is scheduled Oct. 27 for $50. More information may be obtained at the Arcata Recreation Department at 822-7091.
Bob Doerr teaches dog obedience classes beginning Sept. 28 through the city of Fortuna at the Firemen's Pavilion in Rohner Park. The cost varies from $50 for basic training and, for basic plus, $40.
PHOTOS by Mark Lufkin:
1. Trainer Jennifer Kramer and champion show Corgi, Huff.
2. Buddy & Sasha from class of 1999.
3. Group from April dog obedience session.
4. Claudia Myers and Rose, the bloodhound.
5. Pepe, a chihuahua, is admired by a visitor.
An assortment of books highlight the human experience and interpersonal relationships with the 38 breeds of dogs. Here's a sampling:
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