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You, The Leader

I’ve come across quite a lot of people who reject the idea of obedience training for dogs. Some dismiss it as pointless and unnecessary, and others believe that teaching dogs to listen to commands is an act of arrogance and domination.

I Disagree...

I thoroughly disagree with both the above points of view.

As far as I’m concerned, teaching a dog some basic commands is simply about protecting him. And there’s nothing pointless and unnecessary about keeping your dog safe, nor is it arrogant or dominating to save your dog’s life in times of danger. The fact is, a dog not learning to listen to you can cost the dog his life.

Now, it can sound far-fetched to say that teaching basic obedience to a dog is essentially a matter of life and death, but hear me out.

It Really Can Be A Matter Of Life And Death

Dogs live in a human-made environment that they don’t really understand: they live in a world full of vehicles and in households full of poisonous substances (and I’m not just talking about cleaning fluids - various foods that are safe for us, like grapes, sultanas, and raisins, can kill a dog).

Dogs, like small children, don’t comprehend that cars can kill and that they should not run on the road, nor do they realise that certain things are poisonous to them if ingested. The only difference is that most children will grow up to understand that cars can be deadly and that certain things should not be consumed, while dogs never do. So it’s up to us to protect them from their lack of awareness of these dangers. And the only way we can do that is if they listen to us.

An Example

Let's say your dog spots some grapes that have been dropped on the floor. You telling him leave it so that you can pick the grapes up, will stop your dog from eating something that could potentially kill him …but only if your dog listens to you.

That’s where obedience training comes into the picture. Telling your dog leave it when he's about to eat something toxic is only useful if your dog knows what leave it means - and a dog can’t possibly know what leave it means unless you teach him what leave it means. That involves obedience training.

Basic Commands

Remember, I’m not talking about doing extravagant tricks. I’m talking about teaching your dog a handful of commands - in other words, basic obedience training. As a guideline, the following is a list of what I consider to be essential safety-oriented commands.

  • come: self-explanatory.

  • sit/stay: also self-explanatory.

  • free: used to release your the dog from sit/stay. (free is better than the often-used okay as a release command. Because the word 'okay' is used often in common speech, you could inadvertently release your dog by saying 'okay' in a conversation.)

  • uh-uh: a reprimand to prevent your dog from doing whatever he or she is currently doing. (uh-uh is better than the often-used no, because uh-uh is a much sharper sound.)

  • leave it: orders the dog to leave alone anything you don’t want him to sniff at, be close to, or try to eat. I use it in conjunction with the reprimand uh-uh (for example: uh-uh! leave it!).

Where To Begin?

As a starting point, chat to your vet. Because your vet knows both you and your dog, they might be able to recommend a trainer who will suit your dog’s needs and personality.

Once you have your recommendation, talk to the trainer and ascertain that physical punishment or yelling are not used as a means of 'teaching' (if you could call being violent towards animals teaching). If everything is in order on that front, organise to go to a group class or have a private lesson.

Alas, There Are No Guarantees In Life

I’ve experienced first-hand the vital nature of teaching dogs basic commands. My dog Jordan (RIP) slipped his collar and was killed in a hit and run because, in a crucial moment, he didn’t listen to me when I told him come.

Did I not teach Jordan well enough? Or was it just his adventurous Jack Russell nature which meant that, no matter how well I taught him, he was always likely to be headstrong at certain times? Or was it both?

I guess I'll never know. My point in telling you about Jordan's death, is to assure you that my advice about obedience training is not naive. Yes, teaching your dog basic commands helps keep him safe, but I'm fully aware that it guarantees nothing. Even if you teach your dog well, he might disobey you just the one time - that one critical time - and be harmed or killed as a result.

Still, it's no reason to reject obedience training. It's most certainly a key factor in helping to keep your beloved dog safe, and will give you a fighting chance to save your dog in a life-and-death moment.

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Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance

It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.

Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.

Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.

Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.

Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.

If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.

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