My husband and his three-year-old GSD are heavily and happily involved in search and rescue. They have passed several national certification evaluations for land and shoreline HRD (human remains detection – cadaver), and they now are upping their game, working on FEMA disaster search standards with their local team, Minnesota K9 Search Specialists, whose lofty goal is to become the first deployable canine FEMA disaster SAR team in MN.
An important part of MNK9SS’s training involves traveling all over the country to work with other established FEMA teams at their dedicated practice sites so they can gain experience in unfamiliar locations and expose their dogs to novel situations that include building shells that are several stories high, crashed vehicles, agility courses made of railroad ties, barrels, cement slabs, pallets, logs, culverts, and, of course, thos
e coveted RUBBLE PILES. So far the team members have been to Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Florida. (Sadly, Minnesota does not yet have a suitable rubble pile.)
Yesterday, while in Kansas, Mark and Kinsey did a mock evaluation of the obedience portion of the FEMA Foundation Skills Assessment. It included heeling free with other people and dogs milling around, an emergency stop, and a five-minute stay with the handler out of sight.
One of Mark’s teammates reported: “A dog fight broke out and all the dogs except Kinsey broke their stay; she held her stay for the remaining two minutes. It was absolutely incredible.”
It may have been incredible, but it is not surprising. Mark has worked with Kinsey on her foundation obedience skills pretty much daily since she came to us as a wee pup three years ago. She has attended Obedience Levels 1, 2 and 3 classes at Cloud Nine, and both Mark and I put her good manners behaviors to use every day at home and when out and about with her. At any given time throughout the day, we have Kinsey heel from room to room or to and from our vehicles; we have her sit or down stay while we prepare her meals (often outside the front door in anticipation of the out-of-sight FEMA evaluation thing); we have her do a “down in motion” while playing fetch; we have her do a recall in one direction while all the other dogs are racing out the door in the other direction; we have her immediately move to and sit in heel position when she gets out of the truck (rather than allow her to wander off, sniff around, pull or strain while on her leash); we have her stand and stay while we brush or lay on her side and stay while we trim her nails. It’s not a huge chunk of time – but it is something – some training – every single day. Additionally, Kinsey has served as a “demo” dog with me in countless obedience classes, so she’s been exposed to and has learned to ignore the “green” dogs who still might be a little ill-mannered, overly friendly, a bit rowdy, or somewhat reactive; she’s learned that they are none of her business and that her job is to pay attention to her handler/trainer.
Kinsey is not exceptional. She’s just the result of daily, consistent, good old fashioned, nuts and bolts, reward-based/consequence-based obedience training – the kind we teach and do at Cloud Nine – with a buckle collar (or no collar) and her favorite motivators: treats, toys, praise from her owners/trainers. No compulsion. No heavy-handedness.
Training a dog is not rocket science. But the training methods we use are science based, and that’s why they work.
Admittedly, training a dog to be well behaved can seem overwhelming – not because it’s hard to do, but because it takes time. Lots and lots of time. I know. Been there; done that. And I’m here to tell ya that there’s no quick fix, no substitute for going through the process. First you have to learn how to teach your dog what you want him/her to do (the steps, the layers, the rewards, the consequences), then YOU have to teach your dog.
A well-trained dog doesn’t happen over night. It’s a commitment. It’s a journey. There are ups and downs – three steps forward and two steps backward as it were. But tackling obedience training a little every day with goals, and consistency, and criteria and the steps and exercises we present in our Obedience Level 1 and 2 classes does get the job done. The result? A most rewarding experience and a dog that doesn’t bolt out the front door, doesn’t jump on guests, doesn’t pull you around the neighborhood – a strongly bonded dog that respects you and wants to be with you and obey you. Isn’t that what you want when you add a dog to your family and your life? So what about you? Have you trained your dog today?