March 2008
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Train or Not to Train?

Looking out on one of our dreary, rainy days today that Ohio is so famous for, my mind began to wander thinking of the warm beautiful days of last summer and all of the things Butch and I did together. The good times also reminded me of how fast things can go sour if you are not careful with your best friend. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that training your dog is a waste of time! It was a bright sunny July day in Ohio, the Friday after the 4th of July holiday. Being the last day of my vacation I thought it would be a good idea to take a little trip to Atwood Lake with Butch. Since we had not done much that week I thought Butch might like to get away from the house for awhile. I had begun to wonder if I should let Butch take a crack at swimming for the first time. I figured that since he likes to run through the sprinkler and play in the water at home, he might like to actually swim in the lake. The last time we went to Atwood in the spring, when it was cold outside, it was all I could do to keep him out of the water. I thought that I could hold him in the water so that he could paddle just to see if he could do it. Butch is a pretty healthy dog meaning that he doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him. His dog paddling instinct aside, I was concerned that he might just sink like a rock. Just as dogs and people have very different personalities and some humans could not swim to save their own life, Butch might fall in that same category. This being the case, I was mindful of the possibility that even though Butch might have the best of intentions to swim, he might not be able to. After about a 30 minute drive I found a nice, shaded, secluded, part of the shoreline where I could test Butch’s swimming skills. I put his leash on him and we walked about 50 yards along the shore line from the truck and I took his leash off of him. I picked him up, waded in to about knee deep water and started to lower him in. I had to laugh, the closer he got to the water the faster his wheels were turning! Paddling just the top of the water, I didn’t lower him in completely so he could get used to the idea. As I began to lower him in I could tell that he really could support himself in the water. Well, after about 3 or 4 trips I think he decided that he had enough. I took him out a little deeper, where I knew he could not touch bottom without swimming for a few feet, and let him go. He headed straight for the shore like a bullet. I was so impressed that he could swim so well that I failed to realize that he was running up the hill away from the water…and me! All of a sudden I came to my senses and ran as fast as I could after him. Clomping out of the water and running up the hill in bare feet I had that sinking feeling that I couldn’t do anything about this and he was headed in the direction of the road. In that split second I could see Butch’s life flash before my eyes. I then remembered the sure fire, never fail way to get him to come to me. I stopped, called out “Butch” in a sharp tone, and then started counting as loud as I could ONE, TWO, THREE… Butch, being about 20 yards away by now and at the top of the hill, stopped running dead in his tracks, turned around and ran right back to me!

You see, ever since Butch was a pup, I would play a game with him at home and in the yard. He would run around and every time I would throw something I would count, one, two, three and then throw it. Every time he would bring something back I would also count and then run away from him and try to hide. Every time he found me he would get a treat or a good belly scratch or something good. Being 3 years old, I have done this with him hundreds of times. It was that instinct that I taught him since he was a pup that kicked in and kept Butch from completely running away or worse becoming “road pizza!” He knew that even thought he did not want to go back into the water that something good was going to happen once I started counting. Adding in the fact that he may have started to get scared not recognizing his surroundings, the counting trick saved us both a lot of heartache! Read books, try different things, go to a class but train, train, train your dog!

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