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Each week, we will bring you an article or short story.
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— April 9, 2013 —

Are you a “Dog Handler” or is your dog a “Human Handler?”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

The difference between your dog failing and succeeding at a given task may just depend on how you handle the situation…and how you handle your dog.

I recently had my dog, Jelly, go through Canine Therapy Corps’ (CTC) certification test. She passed on her first attempt (This is a pretty big deal, only about 15% of dogs pass the CTC test on their first attempt). She’s a 2.5 year old female Rottweiler that I’ve had for just over a year. She is very outgoing and social, calm (most of the time) and she possesses a strong work ethic. Jelly will make a great therapy dog and I hope her companionship bring lots of comfort to the people she visits.

Canine Therapy Corps’ test is a demanding test of a dog’s obedience skills and their temperament. It consists of the usual, sit, down, heel, etc. In addition to the obedience work, there are a number of distractions that the dog has to deal with. There is an exercise where the tested dog has to walk up to another dog-handler team and both dogs are expected to maintain obedience positions rather than interact. There are exercises that involve dropping metal bowls and a person using a walker. All of these exercises add significant challenges to the test. Oh, and another thing…it’s pass/fail. If the dog doesn’t perform all of the exercises correctly, they fail the entire test. Jelly trained specifically for the test for about 6 weeks. She had a pretty good foundation in her training, but she still needed a little fine tuning for certain exercises.

The CTC test is held in two parts. There is a practice test on a Saturday and the actual test is held the following Saturday. I generally work weekends. Every Saturday is a training day at Bark Avenue and I can’t take off two in a row.

Enter Lori Schneider.

Lori is a client who trained her dog, Stanley (a 2 year old Golden Retriever), with us at Bark Avenue about a year ago. Stanley went through our On-Leash program. Lori and Stanley are very involved with a number of charity organizations. In addition to their Canine Therapy work, they volunteer together with As Good As Gold Golden Retriever Rescue (www.asgoodasgold.org). Lori writes about Stanley’s rescue work in the book, “Stanley’s Tails of Love.” She signed up for our training with the CTC test as her goal. Stanley, being the rockstar that he is, passed the CTC certification on his first attempt. While that is quite an accomplishment, the really impressive part is this. Lori trained her second golden, Sedona, to pass the therapy dog test pretty much without my help. Sedona also passed the CTC certification on her first attempt.

Since I can’t take weekends off, Lori offered to take Jelly through the CTC test. She really enjoyed training her dogs for the test and thought it would be fun to take another dog through certification. It was Lori who trained with Jelly for those weeks prior to the test. Lori has a natural talent for dog handling that just needed development.

Even a well trained dog needs a good, competent handler. A good handler can make an untrained dog look good, while a less skilled handler can make a well-trained dog look untrained. I often explain it by saying that getting your dog trained is not like getting your car fixed. It’s more like learning how to drive your car in the first place. I also often say that all good dog training is, is good dog handling…consistently.

Lori didn’t show up to Bark Avenue as a great dog handler. What she showed up as, was a person who was very interested in training with her dog for a specific goal. She was a great client and she was very personally involved with working her dogs. She was also very diligent about following through with the homework and really put the time in to practice with her dog. All this practice was just what she needed to develop her natural talent for dog handling.

This is why I structure my training program the way I do. I focus my training on developing the handler’s skills first, and the dog’s obedience commands second.

When you go through training with your dog, realize that the handling instructions are the real value of the program. The commands that your dog learns will be secondary to the ability to handle your dog. This is because no matter what your dog learns as far as commands, there will always be situations that you didn’t exactly train for. In those “surprise scenarios” good handling skills will pay huge dividends.

If you are looking forward to an activity with your dog, look forward to learning new handling skills. Those skills are what are going to enable you to successfully help your dog accomplish whatever goals you set for both of you.

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Wine Tasting at
Madison Vine Wines


Sunday, April 21st, 2:00–5:00pm
For more info and to join the party and invite friends, click here!.


Rummage Sale Fundraiser in
Bark Avenue’s back yard.

Saturday & Sunday,
May 18 & 19th, 9am–3pm


While you are spring cleaning this year, keep in mind that K9 4 KEEPS is seeking items for their upcoming rummage sale! All proceeds will go to the dogs! More information here.