The Old Trainer: First step in training dog is most critical

May 12, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: We have a 1-year-old Lab/Boxer mix named Spats. We love him, and he is the happiest dog around, but we have never had time to train him. Your column inspired us to start working with him. Where do we begin?

-- Dale, Merced

A: Of course Spats is happy. He is Ferris Bueller and every day is his day off.

One year is the perfect time to turn Spats into an educated dog, and you begin the way you begin any undertaking -- by deciding to do it.

The Romans had a saying, Initium est dimidium facti, which translates as "the beginning is half the deed."

Woody Allen put it another way: "Ninety percent of success is just showing up." Those are two different ways of saying the same thing, because the most important step in any endeavor is making the commitment to try. It applies to dog training, too.

Remember the basic tenant of canine psychology: The leader gives the orders, the pack obeys. Spats is willing to follow orders, but only if you convince him you are the boss.

Stand erect with your head up. Be patient, but relentless. Make sure he is focusing ALL his attention on you. If he looks away, use your hand to move his head back to you and say, "Look at me." If he is not concentrating, put the leash on him and keep him right in front of you.

Start with the "sit" command. Give the command, place one hand on his back, just above his tail and press down. Place the other hand under his chin and lift his head. As soon as he sits, pet him and praise him. Repeat a dozen times then take a break, but come back and repeat all steps of the training several times throughout the day.

Have fun with the training and let him play a little, but be firm. Love on him each time he does it right. Labs and Boxers are smart, so he will learn fast. All further training stems from that command. When he masters it, email me, and we will start the rest of his training.

Dear Old Trainer: What product do you use on your dogs to control fleas and ticks? Do these products work?

-- Dan, Colorado Springs, Colorado

A: All of the products work, Dan, but I have yet to find one that does not contain dangerous chemicals. Chemicals so toxic that the products are regulated by the EPA, not the FDA.

The chemicals enter your dog's bloodstream and kill the parasites when they bite the dog. Little research has been done on the long-term effects the products have on your dog's health.

I have researched the products (I pay for anything I use and do not accept free samples) for the past year, trying various combinations on my pack. I have not found a product that is "healthy," yet still kills the parasites.

I will post the results of my research in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, if any of you readers have information to add on the subject, please drop me an email.

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