The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 12, 2013

Ryan Richardson: Pet commands reinforce good manners

By Ryan Richardson
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — I was raised in a household where the words "please" and "thank you" were used regularly. My sister and I learned from an early age what "yes" and "no" meant, and we knew better than to test those boundaries.

My parents weren't what you would call strict, but they focused on using proper manners in our everyday interactions. My mother, Terri, who is a regular reader of my column, would be proud to know that has stuck with me. Manners go a long way in making a good impression, and they let people know that you have an idea between right and wrong.

Those same manners extend to dogs and how they interact with their environment and other people.

One thing that always stuck with me from different training classes was the reasoning behind commands. While some lean toward superfluous tricks, others are used for obedience commands that can prevent danger to your pet or those around it.

There is a normal progression from basic commands such as "sit" and "down." Those commands work up to "leave it," "take it," "drop it" and "heel." There are far more advanced commands, but many of them start with these basics.

What I never realized was how much those are tied to what essentially boils down to manners. This dawned on me when I started focusing on specific commands with my dog again.

When we go to the trails around here, my dog will get into a lot of things that I'm not entirely sure are safe for her or vice versa. Case in point: We found a giant frog on a recent walk together. My dog saw it before I did, and within seconds she was after it.

My first instinct was a quick "sit," which was obeyed quickly. I didn't know if what had her attention was dangerous. Once I realized what had caught her eye, I gave her "down." I use sit and down commands as a way to calm her down before she reacts.

The final command was "leave it," which reinforced to her that the frog was off limits to her -- a definite no.

Sit went into down, which led to leave it. She was calm and understood that no meant no when it came to that frog. All of this was done in the span of 10 seconds.

While I'm sure that eating a frog may not have been the end of the world for my dog, the frog had just as much right to be there as we did, and I was content on letting it go about its day.

I've been working on these commands again with new vigor as a way to bond with my dog. I've been addressing behavioral issues lately, and though I am strongly considering leaning toward seeking professional help with some of the bigger issues, I have found that focusing on the basics has made her more attentive.

While many dogs will tire out during training if it's done for too long, it is important to keep at it for different intervals. By working on the manners and interactions of your dog, you may just save it from getting into trouble.

In addressing troubles, I'd like to acknowledge some feedback I received last week. I received more than a few emails regarding how I respond to my dog when I get home.

Many of you were left with the impression that I leave my dog in her kennel for eight hours or more at a stretch. That is not the case: I plan my lunch hours to go home and let my dog out for her normal afternoon feeding. Leaving her in her kennel during the day isn't the best situation, but she isn't in there continuously for the whole time that I am away.

The reason that I have brought up the issues of her making messes and having anxiety is because these issues are new. I have had her for almost three years, and for most of that time she has been rambunctious and hyper. These are perfectly understandable in a smaller dog.

But some of these new behaviors could suggest aggressiveness or other issues that I want to address and correct. As always, I thank you for the feedback, and I was glad to clarify this point.



Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at rrichardson@joplinglobe.com or 417-627-7363.