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Scout heeling with Stephanie and the pups at 8 weeks old following


Training your IWS is very important.  It is more fun living with a dog who understands you, has some basic manners, and it creates a more harmonious relationship.  However, appropriate training techniques are very important.  If you are negative or reactive with an IWS, he/she will tune you right out ("this person's no fun; I'll go do something else").  Get more forceful, and the dog may feel forced to defend himself.  While the IWS are physically tough, they are emotionally sensitive and some are more sensitive than others.  It is amazing how some of the big boys can be the most sensitive.  It doesn't mean they can't learn, it just means they need clear and fair information.  If you use inappropriate training techniques, you can make even the most exuberant and driven dog wilt and very unhappy.  Do you want your dog to listen and respect you when other, sometimes more exciting things, are occuring around you?  If you don't have a relationship with your dog, they will not listen to you when it is important.  So what is the answer?  Consistent and fair training.  Training can take many forms.  Obedience is core training for any dog and is critical as it teaches basic manners and instructs the dog how to behave in any situation.  However, you and your dog can also participate in many other forms of training including agility, Wag It games, nose work, rally obedience, tricks and tracking.  When you practice training exercises, such as obedience, the dog has many opportunities to be praised.  Very quickly, your pup will learn to truly value that approval and your relationship.  If after you have established this relationship and if you then must express disapproval, the dog cares deeply and will work to avoid disapproval again.  So, instead of a dog that tunes you out, you get a dog who wants to please.  I’m not talking about the type of training that takes hours every day, that drills formal exercises, or is boring and dull.  The best obedience training is a few minutes of fun, playful, interactive exercises where the dog can be successful and learn.  It truly becomes a partnership.

One of the best seminars I've ever gone to on dog behavior and relationship training is Suzanne Clothier.  I've been to several of her seminars.  I can't say enough about how good she is.  She has a wonderful, calm approach with dogs and her insight into training that is based on a respectful relationship really has hit home for me.  Her information is  There is tons of information, articles and books/pamphlets to order on general dog behavior, training and working on problems.  One of her important message is you have to have a connection and a respectful relationship to get the most out of your dog.

While obedience training used to have a bad rap, obedience training can be fun and it is the foundation for a positive relationship between dog and human.  It is also the foundation of any activity that you may want to do with your dog including competitive obedience, rally obedience, agility, tracking, and hunting.  It also allows you to have a companion that you are proud of and enjoy.  If you want to take obedience beyond just the basics, you will want to go to classes to learn more skills and to practice around distractions.  You should find a trainer who you admire.  How do you choose such a person?  First, do they have experience with temperaments similar to your dog's temperament?  Are they competitively successful in your chosen sport?  Most importantly, do you like the way their dogs work, and especially their relationship with their dogs?  If you don’t like the relationship they have with their dog, find someone else.

Most trainers and clubs want you to have your puppy fully vaccinated before taking a class.  Try to avoid giving your puppy his/her rabies vaccination before six months.  If the club insists that you give the rabies shot by age 16 weeks in order for you to participate, please be sure to give the rabies shot separately from any other vaccinations.  The separation should be at least two weeks. 

Basic Training

Unfortunately, many people have a negative impression about obedience training.  Much of this impression comes from the way old-time obedience people used to train with harsh words and corrections and it was usually pretty boring.  Luckily, obedience training methods have changed to be a lot more fun for both the dog and the person.  My dogs love obedience and they love to learn.  Many people find the heeling exercise very boring but it is Scout’s favorite exercise and she is really good at it.

It all starts with the training you do with your puppy.  If you make it fun and positive, your puppy will grow into an adult dog that loves to learn.  You may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t plan on competing with my dog in obedience, why is this important?”  It is important because in every interaction you have with your pup, you are teaching them something.  Isn’t it better to be teaching them something positive?  IWS can be a good size dog (50-75 pounds).  Basic manners start with obedience training.  It’s much nicer to have company come over and meet a dog with nice manners than to have an out-of-control dog.  Also, if you plan on doing agility, hunting, tracking, therapy, or any other dog activity, obedience is the foundation for it all. Finally, I find that a few minutes of constructive training with my dogs can do a great job of tiring them out.

I strongly recommend reading the book, "Building Blocks for Performance" by Bobbie Anderson with Tracy Libby.  This book is a great guide to building a positive relationship with your puppy.  It explains basic training better than most any other book I have read.

When we talk about obedience training, we are not talking about training for hours on end and drilling exercises.  This is the old fashion way and is bound to turn off the most willing dog.  Puppies have a very, very short attention span.  Training for puppies consists of short training sessions, usually no longer than 5 minutes each, a few times a day.  For adult dogs, you can go longer but generally, no training should go more than 20 minutes without some break.  Having multiple dogs to train can be beneficial at times.  I will work one dog for about 5 minutes and then give them a break while I train another dog.  It works very well for me as every dog gets a necessary break and they are eager to have another turn.

I start teaching my puppy as soon as I bring them home.  When I breed a litter, I began teaching them sit at 6 weeks of age.    They love to learn!!!  I start with basic exercises such as sit, down, stand back, right (they circle to their right), left (they circle to their left), and come.  Most of this training is done using treats as a lure.  I also teach them to sit in heel position and one to two stride of heeling.  Heeling can be very boring so I ask for only one or two strides and then I release them and play a game with the pup.  All of my training involves the puppy interacting with me by playing or tugging on a toy or leash.  I want them to know this is fun!  A basic principle is that you have to be more fun to the puppy than any thing else in their world. 

I encourage retrieving as soon as possible by throwing a ball or their favorite toy a short distance and encouraging them to come back to me.  I do not immediately take the ball/toy but I make a big fuss over the fact that they retrieved the object. 

One of my favorite games to teach is “find it.”  I start this game in the house by getting the puppy into a toy.  I then “hide” it very close to where we are playing.  Usually this is just under my leg with me sitting on the floor.  When the puppy gets it, I say, “good find it.”  As the pup gets better at finding the object close, I begin to hide the object farther and farther away, first in the same room and then I begin to hide it in other rooms.  The pace at which you hide the object farther away depends on your puppy but it’s amazing how fast they learn this game.  I taught Scout this game and now she waits downstairs while I hide the ball upstairs.  I go back downstairs and tell her to find it and sure enough, she does.  It’s a great game to challenge their mind and it is very good when it’s gross weather outside.

I do a lot of foundation training for agility but I don't do any jumping until their growth plates are closed at about 12 months of age.  However, I start teaching them directions (left and right), tunnels, and their contact position at the base of a contact.  They start to learn handling moves on the ground and they also start learning stays so they can have start line stay.

I start field training by teaching them to come and sit on a whistle.  I also teach them to love retrieving and they get a lot of opportunities to swim.  I teach them to take direction (back and over) by using plates on the ground.  I start with 3 plates, one set to the right of the puppy, one to the left, and one directly behind.  I place a treat on each plate and then have the pup sit in front of me, between the left and right plates and the 3rd plate directly behind.  They are on a long line during this so I have some control.  I then tell the “over” and give them a hand signal to direct them to the left or right plate.  When they get to the plate, I tell them “bite it” and then “come” so they come back to me.  When they come back to me, I give them a treat.  I then send them to the 3rd plate by telling them back.  As they learn the concept, I move the plate farther and farther away.

You can also teach your dogs tricks.  Again, this challenges the mind and gives the puppy something constructive to do.  Tricks are only limited by your imagination.  You can teach shake, high-five, roll-over or play dead.  There are many, many more tricks you can teach and there are several good books on teaching tricks.  Drake used to love to chase his tail.  When he did this, I would say, “wind it up.”  He would than naturally go the other direction and I would say, “unwind.”  By putting a word to this behavior, he soon began to do it on command.  People just loved watching him play this game.

There are many different things you can do with your IWS.  Just remember to make it fun!



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