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The View From the Doghouse
By Sarah E. Horton

When a dog wags its whole tail fast, it’s usually happy. But if only the tip of the tail is wagging, the dog may be stressed. A slow wag may mean the dog is confused. Is it that important to know these facts? Well, the more you know about how dogs think and the better you can read their body language, the better you will be at training dogs. Yes, learning about and training dogs is time-consuming, but it is definitely worth it. The amount of fun you get from your dog is directly proportional to the amount of time you put into training and building a relationship with him.

I have always loved dogs. When I was eight, we adopted a retired racing greyhound named Bimini. At that time, I did not know much about owning a dog. I had read dog books, but if you want to learn about something, there is nothing like experience. Hmm, so dogs really didn’t like to be hugged tightly or thumped on the head? As I learned more about dogs and about how much fun they were, I began wanting my own dog.

When I was eleven, I finally got my own dog – a Cardigan Welsh Corgi puppy from Dragonpatch Kennels. I had done a lot of research on the breed. I thought it sounded perfect for me, and I was right. I named my puppy Turquoise Gem of Dragonpatch, called Turquoise or Turq for short. He is an adorable, sweet, friendly, blue merle dog.

We enrolled in Puppy Kindergarten at the Clarion Canine Obedience Club, the CCOC. There, we learned all the basics: sit, down, stand, stay, come, and heel. There, I discovered that it was very effective to train a dog with treats. I learned that you should give treats only occasionally once the dog has a pretty good idea of what you want. We had to teach our dogs a trick for graduation, and I taught Turq a trick I invented. I told him “secret,” and he licked my ear as if he was telling me a secret.

After graduating from Puppy Kindergarten, we enrolled in Beginner Obedience Class. There, we continued work on the basics, but the work was more advanced. We learned some other things there, too. When we graduated from Beginner Obedience, we were allowed to join the CCOC. I joined so that I could participate in the obedience classes offered for members. At those classes, we did more advanced work. Several people there were very helpful as I continued training Turq. I planned to train him to compete in a sport, but I was not sure which one.

Then, I went to a Rally demo at the CCOC, and I came home knowing that this was what I wanted to do with Turq. I printed out the Rally signs and began teaching Turq the moves. Soon, the CCOC began holding Rally classes. Turq was a fast learner. Although we were told that many dogs did not begin competing until they were three, Turq and I began competing in Novice Rally when he was only one year old. That same year, we enrolled in the CCOC’s Canine Good Citizen Class. I worked hard at relaxing so I could have fun with Turq and at thinking about his perspective when I trained him.

The spring of 2006 was very exciting. Turq passed the CGC test, and we competed in several Rally trials. In our first trial, we received a score of 92 and took fourth place! At our second trial, we got a score of 92 and fourth place a second time. The next day of that trial was very hot, and Turq and I do not handle heat well. Those were not great high-scoring conditions, but we qualified with a score of 82. Turq was Turquoise Gem of Dragonpatch CGC RN! We finished off our Novice Rally career by competing in a trial we had entered as a backup in case we NQd once. We got a score of 90. Turq and I had qualified in four out of four trials!

For the rest of the year, I continued training Turq, but we did not work as hard as we had before. Turq soon stopped responding well to my commands. Finally, I realized that I needed to train him much more if I wanted to be successful in Rally. I began taking him to different places to train him, and I trained him almost every day. I worked even harder than I had before. Turq and I had fun training.

I finally fully realized that for successful training, I had to put myself in my dog’s position. Most of the time, when the dog makes a mistake, it’s the handler’s fault. But if I was doing something wrong and wanted to find out what, I had to look at it from Turq’s perspective. If I wanted to teach him something new, I had to know what he would think. The more I learned about the canine mind and about dog body language, the better I became at training him.

In the spring of 2007, we entered the Advanced class in several Rally trials. Now, we would be competing offleash. In our first trial that year, we got a score of 100 and took first place! We also won the Highest Scoring Cardigan Welsh Corgi in Rally prize. Our hard work had definitely paid off. The next day, we got a score of 90 and took second place. At our next trial, we got a score of 94 and took third place. Turq was Turquoise Gem of Dragonpatch CGC RA!

After earning our title, we decided Turq was ready to begin competing in Excellent. We moved up to Excellent for the second day of that trial. We would have to perform the Honor exercise, in which Turq would do a sit-stay or down-stay while the next dog went through the course. If Turq broke his stay, we would NQ. At our first trial in the Excellent class, the course went well, but the dog in the ring began running around during the Honor exercise. Turq looked and looked at the dog, but I reminded him to stay. He held his stay, and we got a score of 95 and third place. At our next trial, we got a score of 88 and third place. The day we finished our title, we got a 92 and third place. Only a short time after finishing his RA, Turq was Turquoise Gem of Dragonpatch CGC RE!

Turq had completed his RE, but we had already entered another trial, just in case we NQd once. We went to that trial for fun. Turq was one of only two dogs in Excellent at that trial. While Turq was doing the Honor, the dog in the ring began barking and running around. I reminded Turq to stay. Although he wanted to get up, Turq stayed. We got a score of 96 and took first place!

I had so much fun training Turq that I wanted a second dog. Turq is very friendly, and I knew he would love having a puppy. In April 2007, I got a light brindle Cardigan puppy from Rocky Ridge Kennels. Her name is Rocky Ridge’s Heavenly Spice, called Cosmos. Hopefully, she will make her ring debut next spring. Cosmos is very different from Turq. She is very intense and very smart. When I train her, she is very focused on me.

Those qualities make Cosmos is a quick learner, and she knows all the Rally moves. However, she becomes nervous in new places that have lots of strange sights and sounds. I am training her at home and at the CCOC, and I am taking her to different places just to walk her around. Hopefully, she will learn that new places are safe and be ready to compete by next year.

I hope to get the Rally Advanced Excellent title with Turq, so I am working on even greater precision with him. I am teaching Cosmos to be very precise. This means that I have to think harder about what signals I am giving them. Am I accidentally signaling that they should do something I actually do not want them to do? To figure this out, I must look at my body language from their perspective.

I am also beginning to train them for Agility. I am working on sending Turq out to a jump, having him come to me over a jump, and sending him through the tunnel. We have also started working on simple sequences. Cosmos is too young to jump, but I am teaching her the tunnel. Turq is quickly learning what I am teaching him about Agility. The CCOC recently moved into a larger building, so they will be able to have Agility classes. Turq and I are definitely signing up for the Beginner Agility class.

When I got Turq, I had to make changes in my schedule so that I could take care of him. Now that I have Cosmos, my schedule has to make room for two dogs. I work hard at training them. They take up a lot of my time, but they are definitely worth it. Training is one of the most fun things I do, and it is a great way to bond with my dogs. I just need to remember to relax and look at the view from the doghouse.