Running with the Pack
Article by Gretchen Irion
My husband and I are the proud owners of three Vizslas. Yes, one too many to be politically correct on the crowded peninsula. Greetings from strangers has gone from "What beautiful dogs" to simply "THREE??". People inherently sense the added responsibility involved in owning multiple dogs.
As dog owners we have a responsibility to leave the general public with a favorable impression of our dogs. The average Joe may think a dog is a stupid flea ridden beast who belongs in the backyard tied to his dog house. Some people, especially those who have had little contact with dogs as children, actually fear dogs will bite them. Many recreation areas are "on lead" or "under voice control" only. In order to survive in such a setting and exercise your dog, you must be sensitive to the fears and prejudices of others or be prepared to be insulted on occasion. The best armor is confidence and preparedness. You and your dogs should be a polite team. As the pack leader, you must instruct your dog when to come, stay, leave it and stay off. These commands coupled with plenty of baggies to dispose of pochie poopies can make all the difference between a pleasant romp and an embarrassing situation.
The recall is the most important command in off-lead control. I will never forget once seeing a woman in a store take off her shoe to hit her child for misbehaving while she called his name and tried to catch him. Is there any wonder the child did not want to come. Keep this ludicrous picture in mind as you master the recall and remember the importance of positive reward. To teach your dog the recall, it may be necessary to place a long light lead on him and allow him to sniff around the front yard or be otherwise distracted by children or critters. Call him when he is engrossed in an interesting scent or planning to visit the kitty next door. If he does not respond, give the leash a sharp pop to get his attention and reel him in. When he gets to you reward him with a treat and praise, never minding his initial reluctance to come. Do this often until he responds without the pop. On each walk call him at least once or twice for no reason other to reward him with a treat and a quick "good dog" release This will assure him something good happens when he comes. When out in public try to call him back to you before he fixates on the object you are trying to avoid. For instance if a small child or a dog on a tight lead is approaching, call your dog before he notices them and put him on lead. You are putting your success rate in jeopardy if you call him after he has decided to go visit. Always bring plenty of biscuits for your "good dog".
The stay command can make your life much easier inside the house and in public. Practice at home for short periods of two to five minutes initially. You as pack leader must release your dog when the stay command is over. If you allow your dog to decide when the exercise is complete, he will assume he is the leader. Initially, the down is easiest especially for a rambunctious puppy. Say the command once and pull him down by the collar. If he gets up correct him immediately by physically putting him back in a down. There is no room for negotiation or coaxing. This can be done for five minutes while watching TV every night. Treats and enthusiastic praise can follow the release "OK." It is easy and works like a charm. Once the down is mastered, sit-stay and stand-stay are easier. I require my dogs to stay when I open the car door and then release them after I get out. This insures their safety and allows me time to put on their leashes or check for cars without a battle. The stand stay is most helpful if you show or hunt your dog. The come followed by the sit stay and then a release, can be used on a walk to allow people with unmanageable whining leashed dogs to pass without a doggie encounter. Once your dogs have mastered the sit or down stay, you can look forward to enjoying their company in public places.
The "leave it" command is helpful if your dog has a tendency to eat horse piles or chase kitties. All you need do to teach this command is say it when you mean it. It should be enforced by a pop with the leash or a removal of the article being mauled. Again, it is best to anticipate the misbehavior. Say "leave it" when the dog is considering whether to chase a cat or pick up an undesirable article. Once the article is in the mouth or the dog is on the chase, it may be more difficult to undo.
The "off" command to stop jumping on people is the most difficult command for me to enforce. I love being kissed by enthusiastic dogs when I am in my blue jeans. However, I don't like it when I am wearing my work clothes. I also don't like it when my neighbors are jumped on when encountering my dogs outside the house. Somehow, this type of affection also not well understood by children or frail elderly people. Unfortunately, the most important rule in dog training along with fairness is consistency. I am not being fair or consistent if it is OK to jump sometimes. The only way to insure my dogs know it is not OK to jump is if I always enforce a jump with a sharp "no." The knee in the chest maneuver can be a great incentive for my puppy to stop jumping. Some people go as far as stepping on the dog's back feet when the dog is in the air. Always couple the physical correction with the command "off" so the word can be used alone eventually.
In order to blend harmoniously with the multitude of inhabitants in the Bay area, we must be conscientious and responsible Vizsla owners. As pack animals your Vizslas will appreciate and respect a leader who is fair, consistent and who means what he says. Understanding some basic commands can turn your mischievous brats into well-behaved adults. Your walks will be much more pleasant if your dogs come when called, stay when necessary and refrain from jumping on friends and neighbors. Consistency in the rules of behavior and reward for a job well done are the ticket to being a great pack leader.