My work has been published in The Age, The Herald-Sun, The Australian, The Big Issue, Australian Birdlife, The Bark (USA), Eureka Street, Overland and The Australian Jewish News.
Published October 18th 2011
Student with border collie in class (Image courtesy Southside Dog School)
What sort of dog do you have? One that jumps up on people? Pulls on the leash? Attacks other dogs? Chases cars, bikes or skateboards? Or one that simply never comes when it's called?
If you answered 'yes' to any of those questions, chances are, you and your dog could use some help. Training is one important way of ensuring she's properly socialised, happy and well-adapted to this big, confusing, urban, human world.
Southside Dog School is an excellent training institution. Located in the southeast suburb of Cheltenham, the staff – all volunteers – help anyone train their dog using methods based on positive reinforcement. Dogs receive rewards for desired 'good' behaviours, while unwanted behaviours are ignored or managed.
Students work in small classes, beginning with socialisation class or puppy class if the dog is under six months. Dog and handler progress through to the fourth level, at which point they may participate in agility – a kind of obstacle course for dog and handler – formal obedience or assorted 'tricks'. There's even 'canine freestyle', an obedience/dance hybrid that must be seen to be believed.
Boris clears the jump in Agility class (Image courtesy Southside Dog School)
Dogs become conditioned to give the desired response to a request by being reinforced with food treats, pats or toys. The basics of 'sit', 'stay', 'drop' and 'come' are introduced early and built upon in subsequent classes. Everyday situations like crossing the road and hanging out at cafes are practised, too.
No old-fashioned punishments – choker chains, shock collars or physical abuse – are allowed.
No matter how old, young or problematic your dog, the gentle, patient staff at Southside are willing to help you deal with it. All are trained dog trainers.
With hundreds of thousands of dogs given up for adoption (and destroyed) every year because of difficult behaviours, it's worthwhile considering learning these vital skills.
The tunnel in Agility class (Image courtesy Southside Dog School)
Important: training on its own will not improve all unwanted behaviours. A qualified veterinary behaviourist should be consulted. I also recommend the methods of 'Dog Whisperer', Cesar Millan.
Southside Dog School is open on Thursday and Sunday mornings, at Cheltenham Park, off Park Road, Cheltenham.
Newcomers must attend a brief introductory session. Details on the website.