For those of you who aren’t serious dog people, the American Kennel Club has a Canine Good Citizenship program (also referred to as the CGC). If you want your dog to be certified, you and your dog have to pass the Canine Good Citizenship test. There are ten items on the test: accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, appearance and grooming, out for a walk (walking on a loose lead), walking through a crowd, sit and down on command and staying in place, coming when called, reaction to another dog, reaction to distraction, and supervised separation. If you want your dog to be a therapy dog (the ones who visit people in hospitals and who get to have kids read to them in libraries), you have to have the CGC certification. We would like to have Nyx certified as a therapy dog. She has a very good temperament and she enjoys learning. She’s already a fairly well-behaved dog, but it would be fun, I think, to be able to pass that test.
Nyx and I spent over an hour this weekend working on very basic obedience. She went through an entire bag of treats, which made it much more fun for her, and she did really well, especially considering that I was changing something that was, for her, pretty basic. We’ve always used a harness for her. It clips in the front so when she pulls she can’t get her front shoulders into it, which was extremely helpful when she was younger and much more bouncy. She walks fairly well on a leash now, so it isn’t quite as big a deal, other than that she is comfortable in it and knows what to expect. The CGC test requires that the dog wear only a soft collar, so we had to start over, at least to some extent. She didn’t feel her usual pull at the chest when she decided to go explore, so she had to learn to pay attention to the collar. The fact that I had treats certainly helped!
I grew up with English Bull Terriers (Spuds McKenzie and the Target dog are both examples of the breed). I love them dearly. I thought every other breed of dog looked weird for much of my life. They are fairly smart and, though it’s probably anthropomorphizing, as far as I’m concerned they smile and they have a sense of humor. They are also some of the most stubborn dogs around. I had one dog trainer who said, “There’s no such thing as a stubborn dog, just one that you haven’t figured out how to inspire yet.” I laughed out loud. She was rather offended, but, when asked, said she had never worked with English Bull Terriers. If they get bored with training, it just won’t work. You don’t see them in the obedience ring nearly as often as, say, a Border Collie or a German Shepherd because it takes a certain type of person to be willing to work through obedience with English Bull Terriers.
My last dog, Ace, was no star at training – he became a reasonably well trained dog, but he took a lot of hard work. It didn’t help that I didn’t get him until he was two. He had a lot of bad habits to undo and he didn’t really see the point. Why work for treats when there were quail running around in the back yard?
Nyx has been a joy. She responds well and consistently to treat training, she seems to enjoy the work, and, when she’s nervous, she’s pretty clear about it. If I don’t pay attention to the fact that she’s nervous, she makes it very clear by putting her paws on my shoulders. She is generally not allowed to do that at all unless she is invited, but as a way of expressing nerves, it certainly makes her point. In general, though, she is a fairly calm and happy dog. We’ve started learning clicker training, which is challenging for me, too. Since it involves treats, she seems to be taking it as a challenge, so it is going well, even though we have only just begun.
We decided when Nyx was fairly young that we’d see if she could get through the training. I’ve been too busy to do the needed work, but I decided to carve out time because we both, dog and human, enjoy it so much. I think the biggest hurdle will be the supervised separation. She does not like being left. She’s crate trained and has no issue with that, but while we’re walking she wants all of her people to be in full view at all times. I am going to try to rope in a few friends to help work on this once I have her at least somewhat desensitized. To start she’ll go into a sit/stay and I’ll walk around a corner and immediately walk back. Eventually, once I’ve increased the time, I’ll have someone else hold the leash. I’m pretty sure we can get there, but it will be a new kind of challenge for both of us, so I will need to make sure to do it on days when I’m feeling very patient and she isn’t tired.
I’m really enjoying having a dog this eager to learn. It’s really fun. I’m not sure how much of it is the breed, since she is our first Great Dane, but whatever it is, I’m looking forward to training sessions. She will learn fairly quickly that the new collar means a chance for a lot of treats, which will certainly help. When we train it isn’t just work, either – she gets breaks and sometimes just runs in circles like a horse on a lunge line. We taught her that when she was very small, and she loves it. Never fails to make me laugh, too.
We’re lucky to have such a sweet-tempered dog, and I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can go with this.