Training multiple venues with your Sheltie
By Kara Kolster, DVM
I have been blessed with several wonderful pets and training partners who have taught me a great deal about dog training and given me a glimpse into the Sheltie “psyche.” My Shelties have been successful in conformation, agility, obedience, rally, herding, and tracking. The only sport we ever quit was flyball and that was because I couldn’t tolerate the noise! I believe every dog I work with brings me new challenges and makes me a better trainer.
Following are a few of the lessons I’ve learned (most of them the hard way!):
It’s never too early . . .
Puppies are little sponges for learning and their most important first lesson is how to learn. If they learn the training game young, you will be able to teach new behaviors much easier throughout their lifetime.
. . . but let them be puppies. A dog doesn’t know the difference between scent articles and parlor tricks. There is plenty of time later for the serious stuff. I like to spend the puppy stage making training fun so the work itself becomes rewarding. This will carry through your dog’s entire career.
Balance new and old skills. Working in multiple venues at once keeps my dogs engaged and interested – they never know what kind of fun we might have today. I prefer to introduce more difficult behaviors in one venue at a time. While they might be a bit stressed learning a new skill in one area, keep other sports light and fun with exercises they already know so there is a mental break. Shelties have a great capacity for learning but you don’t want to overwhelm your dog.
The titles and accomplishments are great, but they are just a marker for the time and devotion spent working with our dogs.
Don’t drill exercises. If your dog gets it right once or twice, have a party and move on. Shelties are intelligent dogs and if you ask them to keep repeating an exercise, they are likely to think you want a different response and will “get creative.”
Keep your dog in peak physical condition. Proper nutrition, exercise, health care, and maintaining a healthy body weight are essential for a canine athlete. Being a “weekend warrior” will contribute to injury risk and ultimately shorten your dog’s performance career.
Know your dog. I have been lucky to have Shelties who wanted to work regardless of distractions but some dogs are more sensitive to new environments, ring crew, etc. It is wise to prepare your dog by training in different places and attending matches before entering your first trial.
Above all else, love your dog and enjoy the journey. I hope we’re all in dog sports because we love our dogs and enjoy spending time with them. The titles and accomplishments are great, but they are just a marker for the time and devotion spent working with our dogs. You never know how long your dog will be with you or what may happen down the road so enjoy every moment for what it is – the chance to share a fun activity with your best canine friend.