What incentives are there for dog training?

Published 8:39 am Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I know how Snoopy felt in the 1972 animated film “Snoopy Come Home” when he encounters numerous “No Dogs Allowed” signs. It is difficult for dog owners to take their pets places because most people in the world view all dogs the same. The fact is, not all dogs are equal and not all dog owners are equal. If you are the owner of an obedient and well-trained dog, don’t you wish the world made allowances for your dog’s good behavior?

Besides veterinary needs, some owners buy a leash, a stake and some dog food. Some go so far as to build a fence and a doghouse. That is fine. They are providing a loving home for a pet, and that’s the most important thing.

Other owners go further. They spend the extra time training their dogs and some spend the extra money taking their dogs to obedience classes.

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My wife and I taught our dog, Alta, “sit,” “shake,” “lay,” “stay,” “roll over,” “c’mere,” “go get it,” “go poddy,” “off” and a few other commands before she entered obedience school. At school, she learned many other commands, such as “leave it,” “no tug” and how to heel, only we had to use “stay,” which to her if said during walking means to heel. Our dog is amazing. I can set out a glove, a ball and a stick and if I command “Get the glove,” she will fetch the glove. If I hold out a stick and say “up,” she will jump high for it. I can tell her “go” and she will walk away, and when I say “c’mere” she enthusiastically returns. At a playground, she will go down a slide on the command “slide.” She catches on command. She kisses on command. She jumps in a car or truck on command. She does tricks for praise, not treats. But she likes treats. I can set a treat on the ground and tell Alta to stay; she will not go eat the treat until I say, “Go get it.” Alta, of course, is housebroken. She is better at walks off the leash than on because she obeys so well.

But laws and policies tend to view all dogs the same. It’s either dogs yes or dogs no. How come more places don’t see a difference in trained dogs?

Instead of only allowing service dogs indoors, places also should permit trained dogs, too. There is a movie theater in Roslyn, Wash., that lets well-behaved dogs in. Alta sat at our feet during “Ray” starring Jamie Foxx.

I have walked to stores with my dog on a leash, told her to lay on the sidewalk, told her to stay, dropped the leash and gone inside, made a purchase and returned to find her there waiting. Leashes really are for the visual benefit of other people, who are comforted to know I have control of the beast.

I understand how leashes can ease the perspective of others. A trained dog and an untrained dog look alike at first.

But if you are the owner of a trained dog, don’t you sometimes feel society gives little reward to you for the time and money you invested in obedience school? Don’t you wish the graduation certificate could function as a permission slip to bring your dog in stores or at least more stores than at present? Or even into government buildings and places such as trains, bus stations and shopping malls?

To their credit, some places allow dogs. Some bars that don’t serve hardly any food allow dogs. Farm-supply places as the Albert Lea Seed House let dogs come in. You can bring your dog in when you come to the Albert Lea Tribune to renew your subscription. We simply trust you wouldn’t bring in an unruly or dirty dog.

Lisa and I were in Park Rapids with our 1 1/2-year-old son and Alta this past weekend. We had to kill time Friday before we could check into our cabin, so we walked downtown. First we bought a leash for Alta — for the sake of others. Then we visited the stores, usually with Lisa and our son going inside and Alta and I standing outside panting and sweating. When it came time to eat, Alta and I ate outdoors at Main Street Meats, which had a sidewalk stand because it was Crazy Days. The girls at Main Street Meats gave Alta a burned brat for no charge. After I ate, I did the stay-and-dropped-leash thing with Alta, and I went inside to purchase eight brats. (Best brats I have ever tasted!) Lisa and Forrest went to a sandwich shop and ate in the comfort of air conditioning.

Many hotels and motels are starting to be better about dogs but most are not. It often seems the more upscale the lodging is, the less anal it is about pets. The place we stayed in Park Rapids allowed dogs, but it had strict rules. We broke the rules because A. they were unreasonable (for one, I’m not going to keep Alta caged while we are out) and B. the innkeeper hadn’t told us the rules when we made the reservation (thus, we didn’t have a cage with us). The luxurious Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle treated Alta like a cherished guest. The staff loved her.

A great example of my point is leash laws. Some folks think leash laws mean dogs must be attached to leashes. However, many people argue commands for an obedient dog act as a “vocal leash.” If your dog heels and won’t chase dogs, birds, cats, squirrels, children and such, then shouldn’t you and your dog be rewarded for the training and not need a leash?

Rarely, as I walk Alta, someone will holler, “That dog ought to be on a leash.” I ignore them but I feel like saying, “Hey, I paid for obedience classes. That is the leash.”

The world wants owners to train their dogs but offers few incentives for it. Sure, you have a happier dog and a better relationship because your pooch understands what you ask, but what about once you step off your property? It seems everywhere wants dogs bound.

If the world wants dogs that behave, the key is giving dog owners more incentives.

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.