Why did you get a dog? For most people their love of dogs dates back to childhood. Many of us dreamed of having a dog friend as loyal and as smart and heroic as Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Benji, or Buddy. We dreamed of adventure and hijinks, playing games and teaching our dogs fabulous tricks. We dreamed of having the smartest dog on the block.
Now that you have a canine companion in your life, how much time do you really spend honoring that doggy dream?
While puppy classes are always rewarding to teach, and I truly enjoy my work with shelter dogs via Open Paw, my current passion in dog training is introducing people to fun extracurricular activities they can do with their dogs.
In the progressive and animal-loving atmosphere of the Bay Area, most people understand that life with their new pups should begin with a pre-puppy-class consult with a professional trainer to start things out on the right paw and that newly adopted dogs should be registered in a basic manners class right away so new pet parents can bond and learn to communicate with them with clarity and consistency.
Still, very few people understand the importance of continuing education for their dogs beyond the very basics. While exposing a dog to a variety of circumstances such as socialization to people, acclimation to different environments, dog-dog etiquette, and teaching sit, stay, and to come when called are essential, they are merely the foundation for the extraordinary things your dog can learn to do.
Continuing education builds confidence and focus, and crystallizes the basics in a way that will also make your dog much more responsive in regular, real-life situations.
It’s important to remember that behavior is fluid and ever-changing and that what you don’t use will get rusty. Extracurricular classes provide an excellent forum to practice the basics in a fun and creative way that will broaden your dog’s horizon. Not to mention that nearly all breeds of dogs were originally developed for some sort of job, and in our modern society most dogs have found themselves woefully unemployed and underutilized with much of their enthusiasm and talent wasted!
This is why I believe it is not a privilege, but rather a necessity to find a fun class for you and your dog. We’re lucky, the Bay Area is teeming with classes in scent-detection, K9 Games, agility, rally, and now, thanks to Francis Metcalf of Friends of the Family Dog Training in Oakland, even circus class!
Francis has twenty years of experience training dogs and in that time he’s trained dogs for sport and competition as well as for live performances, television, and film. Now he’s collected his diverse training experiences into a course designed to teach pretty much any dog to prance, push, balance, limp, and roll, just like the dog stars of Hollywood.
In circus class dogs learn to perform fun tricks, sure, but it’s so much more! Think about the skills a dog might need to be able to balance a ball on her head, or to push a shopping cart or to hold/ride in a basket. There are lots of things going on, all at once, to make these tasks happen. Balance is a physical challenge and great exercise for a dog. Students have to learn to work with props and to work away from their handlers. They have to learn to sit quietly and wait their turn to perform and then to fully turn on from a resting position. It gives a handler a tremendous amount of control. Also, because it’s a class format, dogs learn how to focus on their handler no matter what, even in the presence of other dogs.
Mainly though, circus class teaches dog handlers (you) how to be super-engaging so that you can not only hold your dog’s attention under any circumstance, but also so you can lure your dog into amazing positions and really expand his repertoire. If you can get your dog to walk on her hind legs past a group of strange dogs sitting on pedestals while holding a flower between her teeth you will likely be able to keep her focus while strolling down city streets with ease. Plus, circus class makes training, and you, more fun, so your dog is likely to pay better attention to you when you call him at the park, too. This class, like nose work, strengthens your working bond with your dog, and you will become a dynamic duo ready to take on the world, just like you imagined when you were a kid.
Kelly Gorman Dunbar is the Director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior where she recruits and trains the instructors for the Dunbar family business, SIRIUS® Puppy & Dog Training. She is the creator of the SIRIUS Sniffers scent-detection program and is in the process of bringing the French sport of cavage (truffle hunting) to the United States. Kelly is also the Founder and President of Open Paw and consults for animal shelters on matters ranging from layout to employee and animal training protocols and procedures.