Written by Jamesa Maulden
Has this ever happened to you? "Thank you all for enrolling in this obedience class. I see that you have a Golden Retriever, you should have fun with him. I see that you have a Sheltie, she should be easy to train. I see that you have a Siberian Husky, well, good luck with him--don't you know that those Northern breeds just can't be trained?!?"
Well, don't be fooled!! The Siberian is very trainable. And don't let them tell you that the Siberian isn't smart...the problem is that they are too smart.
As a person that has trained one Siberian to a Utility Dog Degree and several Siberians to Novice level obedience, I can tell you that the Siberian is very trainable. Since I have also trained a Sheltie, I can say that the Siberian is more of a challenge to train but also is more interesting. The main problem is that Siberians are so smart that they can think of six ways to avoid doing what they are told before they resign themselves to being obedient.
My favorite analogy of the problem is this: If you tell my Sheltie to jump off of a cliff, he will obediently do so. If you tell my Siberian to jump off of a cliff, he will say "After you, Mom." Now, you tell me, which dog is smarter??
Now that we have established that Siberians are trainable, let's answer some frequently asked questions about obedience:
A. Why would I want to teach my dog basic obedience?
B. What is basic obedience?
C. Should I teach my dog obedience while I'm showing in conformation?
D. How long does it take to teach a dog basic obedience?
E. Where can I go to get help?
There are several good reasons for teaching your dog basic obedience skills. It makes him a better pet because he is easier to deal with on a day to day basis. He can come in the house and still behave himself. He will be easier to control around new people and dogs. He will behave himself better at the vet's office and in the show ring. And most importantly, it will build his self esteem and form an unbreakable bond between you. You would be amazed at how well a dog and handler communicate after a few obedience lessons.
Teaching your dog obedience is just like teaching your kids basic manners and etiquette. You would never raise a child without teaching it how to interact with other people and how to fit into society. You don't have to teach your dog "formal obedience", just your household rules. It is my opinion that all dogs would be happier if they knew the rules of the game (ie. your household). I did not say that they would always obey the rules (Do your kids? Do you?), but at least they know what is expected of them and the consequences when they break them.
Basic obedience commands include: heel, stand, come, sit, down and stay. I also teach the following commands: off, wait on your rug and no pulling (yes, a Siberian can learn not to pull you when walking on leash without affecting his sledding ability). The stay command and the come command are invaluable tools if your dog should ever get loose. Once your dog learns these commands, it is really easy to build on them and teach the advanced commands if you wish. It is not necessary for a dog to know all of the obedience commands, just the ones you feel are useful.
You can obedience train your dog while you are showing him in conformation as long as you teach him the difference between the two. If you can teach your dog to sit when you stop when you say "Heel", then you can teach him to bait when you stop by saying some word other than "Heel". Or you don't even have to teach the dog to heel and sit, just teach it not to drag you around!!
However, you should not use a training collar with large links that would damage the coat if you intend to show the dog in conformation at relatively the same time as you are training it. I find the "jewel choke" or "snake choke" type chains work fairly well and don't cut the coat too badly.
These commands can be taught in as little as 8 weeks. You can enroll in an obedience class to get assistance and to expose your dog to other environments. If no classes are available in your area, you can buy a good obedience book and follow the schedule outlined in it. Most books give you step by step directions and an approximate time frame to work each step. I recommend that you borrow or purchase a couple of different books so you can read each one and decide which method or combination of methods will work best for you and your dog.
Now that you have taught your dog obedience, you are under no obligation to compete in AKC trials--but you now have a dog who knows what is expected of him in your household.