Mimi V a writer, social media manager, foodie, music lover, and mum, currently residing in Sydney with Mr V, two little Vs and doggy V.
Published September 28th 2012
Want to fix your "broken" dog for free?
I decided to take my dog to dog obedience classes because I was tired of explaining to people that we got her "second hand" and that she was already "broken" when we got her. In other words, we were finding it hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but it wasn't our fault, as the previous owners hadn't done the proper ground work to train her up when she was a pup. Anyway, that's all by the by. I started researching classes in my area and found out that the City of Sydney council provides free obedience training courses to its canine residents. Yep, you read that correctly, they are absolutely free. Gratis. Zip. Nada. "Yippee!" I cried - what a coincidence, free just happens to be my favourite price.
The classes run for six weeks and are open to all breeds of dog, as long as they are over five months old and are up-to-date with all their vaccinations - they are very strict on this point (for good reason), and will ask to see your pooch's vaccination certificates before it can participate. Another important stipulation is that the dog will need to be able to walk on a neck-lead to a certain extent, as they will not allow you to use a harness or a muzzle-lead (and also discourage the use of choke leads). Other than that, it's pretty much a free-for-all, and you can expect to see 10-15 dogs of all shapes, sizes and ilks, with varying amounts of discipline or training (from over-excited puppies, to stubborn older statesmen).
Our mutt Keno comuning with one of her dog training cohorts
There are two levels of classes, basic and intermediate. Essentially, 99% of dogs will start in the basic class unless they already have a decent amount of training under their collar. Once they have completed the basic level, they are then welcome to sign up to complete the intermediate level the following term. This is what we did, so by the end of it, we'd had 12 weeks of free training. Not bad going. The classes last half an hour and take place in parks across the City of Sydney, the main classes being held in Sydney Park on Saturday mornings (but there are few in other parks (Surry Hills, Glebe, Zetland) on weekday mornings too).
You'll get the most out of it if you can make all the classes, and they encourage the same owner to do the training all the time if possible, for the sake of consistency (but it's not the end of the world if you can't stick to that). Half an hour may not sound like much, but believe me, when you're in the park with 15 dogs and their somewhat harassed owners, it certainly feels like plenty of time. There are always hilarious antics to behold, as some of the dogs truly are crazy, and the sheer concentration of trying to ensure that your dog is not the most embarrassing/badly behaved in the class is enough to require a lay down (or as stiff drink) afterwards. Any more than half an hour and they'd probably have to give out free therapy sessions to the poor frazzled owners to help them recover from the trauma.
'Puppy School' is a great way to socialise your dog.
The basic course covers, um, the basics (cryptic, huh?) like getting your dog to sit, walk, stop, drop, heel and turn on command; as well as general lead skills. Essentially it aims to make the dog aware that their owners are in charge, and that they should therefore be listened to and obeyed. This is really for the safety of the dog, the owner and society at large. For the first few classes, food is used as a training tool, which worked very well for us as our dog is an utter gannet and very motivated by food. In fact, I'm pretty sure that she began to look forward to the class every week purely because of the promise of a constant stream of beefy treats.
The intermediate level builds on those skills learned (and hopefully, mastered) on the basic course, by introducing closer interaction between the dogs, so that they are trained to behave themselves even in "socially" dicey situations. That's where the real chaos kicks off - if your idea of fun is watching a Rottweiler try to mount a Chihuahua, then this place is for you.
The courses are run by third party obedience experts, and are very much like the classes you'd get if you were paying for them - you even get a little graduation certificate confirming that your canine friend has completed the training and is now a functioning member of dog-ciety. Jokes aside, they worked wonders for us and our four-legged friend, and although she was never an out and out disgrace, she is certainly noticeably calmer and easier to discipline than she was before she did this course. More importantly, she gets on better with other dogs now (although is still not perfect).
Obedience training is a great idea for any dog owner, but especially so if you have children.
The classes are currently being run by Procanine and must be booked in advance. You can secure your place by contacting Dianne Porter from Procanine (she will want to know the name, age and breed of your dog, as well as to confirm its vaccination status).
The Sydney Park sessions kick off on Saturday 13th October, but the dates and locations vary, so check out the City of Sydney website for detailed information about specific locations.
City of Sydney have provided these courses because they recognise that pet ownership makes a real difference to people's lives, but also that it works best when people behave responsibly - obviously having a well trained and socialised dog is a big part of responsible dog ownership. I think that they should be applauded for both the sentiment and the execution - long may it continue.
I think it is a bit silly to suggest that it's ok to have small children on the ground on picnic rugs where people are bringing their 'broken dogs' to be fixed, you don't know what those dogs need fixing for, and they deserve a good chance at fixing their dogs. Please ensure you bring adequate supervision for your children as well as pets, they should never be left unsupervised. If children attend such events, please ensure they know how to politely approach a dog!