All responsible dog people, no matter what breed they "fancy," will tell you that basic obedience training is crucial for developing a happy relationship with your pet. It is even more important when you own a large guardian breed.
That little ball of fluff may seem adorable now as he careens around your living room, but will you feel the same about the large, powerful adult who drags you through the neighborhood on walks, or knocks your guests over?
Early conditioning can begin right away! House breaking, leash training, and teaching the meaning of "no" are all essential early experiences. Play time can also be non-stressful training time as you encourage your pup to come to you when you call him, look up into your face as he plops into a sit, or settle into a down for a nice belly rub. Puppy training should emphasize praise and positive experiences, and not demand the pup's attention for too long.
Socialization is also extremely important. Once immunizations are complete, exposure to other dogs, people of all sizes and shapes, and different sights and smells will help to create a confident adult.
Obedience Training Classes
Selecting the right class is important, especially for the beginner. Does the trainer seem helpful and interested in your dog? Has she worked with a wide variety of breeds in the past, including giants? Be aware that there are a wide range of approaches to obedience. Some like to use only praise and reinforcement, while others advocate very strong physical correction early in the training process. The best instructors recognize that each dog is an individual. A trainer that insists that your Pyr will respond exactly like a Golden Retriever is setting you up for frustration.
Pyr owners need to keep in mind the traditional role that Pyrenees were bred to fulfill: that of flock guardian. Pyrenees roamed the mountains with their flocks, and had to be alert to danger. Intelligence, independence, and physical toughness were prized. Flock guardian also needed to be still most of the time (so as not to spook the sheep) while being able to explode into quick action in defense of their charges. While each dog is an individual, these common breed traits have implications for trainers.
Intelligence: Pyrs are quick learners, but they bore easily. Once the basics of an exercise are learned, the average Pyr can get very turned off by repetition. Vary your lessons as you work for precision and avoid "drilling" or pattern training. Throw in new lessons to pique your dog's interest. Keep lessons short - a few minutes once or twice a day.
Stillness: Because our breed is calm by nature, it's often easy to teach the stand-stay, sit-stay, and down-stay. But sheep guardians tend to move at a leisurely pace. They can be very quick and agile when they want to be, but they often don't see the point. This can translate into lagging when heeling, and very slow recalls. Inject as much fun as possible into your training, and work for an "up" attitude.
Independence and alertness: Pyrs are often very sensitive to new environments. They may choose to ignore you as they focus on an unusual sight or sound. Expose your Pyr to lots of different situations in practice (known as proofing). You can get that attention.
Physical toughness: Training methods that rely on the dog "working to avoid a correction" may backfire with a Pyr. You may need to experiment with collars and leads to get them to notice a correction, much less respond to it. Try a range of training methods and equipment, including more positive approaches, until you find the mix that's right for your dog.
Very little "chase" or "retrieve" instinct: Pyrs tend to have very low drives in these areas. Pups rarely engage in retrieving games. If you have a pup that shows any interest in fetch games, foster it! And even if you don't, patience and praise can help you cross even this gigantic hurdle.
Showing in Obedience
In obedience, you need not "win" to earn a degree. You only need a minimum qualifying score on the exercises. Because of this, obedience people tend to be very supportive of each other's efforts. We are not in competition with each other. Rather, we are all striving toward a theoretically correct performance. We each get to set our own individual goals within the larger scope of the sport.
Sometimes owners who are interested in conformation showing worry that obedience training might have a negative effect. Just the opposite is true! Obedience will enhance responsiveness and handleability and can be a real asset to the conformation dog. Some of the top conformation dogs of all time have also held obedience degrees.
Other Obedience-Related Activities
There's a whole world of fun activities that you can participate in with your dog, once you have trained him. Visits to nursing homes, hiking, backpacking, carting, agility, tracking: the only limit is your imagination!
The GPCA, in an effort to support and encourage owners who wish to discover the full potential in their dogs, offers a fun and rewarding Versatility program. Owners participate in a variety of activites, to earn points toward three different levels of versatility degrees. For more information, contact the GPCA.
Whether you are training on your own, or want to know more, there are some useful resources:
The American Kennel Club, 5580 Centerview Drive, Raleigh, NC 27606-3390. Write to them for a list of obedience clubs in your area. While you're at it, send $1.00 along, and request a copy of the OBEDIENCE REGULATIONS. A must have!
FRONT AND FINISH, P. O. Box 333, Galesburg, IL 61402. Subscription is $24/year. This is a monthly newspaper, covering all aspects of obedience, including regional news, training tips, interviews with top handlers, book reviews, and equipment resources.
Visit your local public library or bookstore. While we do not wish to endorse a particular author or training method, some well-respected obedience authors include: Diane Buaman, Carol Lea Benjamin, Jack and Wendy Volhard, Bashkim Dibra, and Brian Kilcommons. There are a lot of other good books out there as well. If you see or hear of an obedience title that interests you, remember that you can preview it by borrowing it from your local public library. If your library does not own it, they often can borrow it for you from another library.
Any obedience enthusiast will tell you that the time spent working with your dog can create an intellectual and emotional bond between you that goes well beyond the normal "pet" relationship. In the end, we all end up with the dog/owner relationship that we deserve. Doesn't your dog deserve the depth of communication with you that obedience can provide?
Contact with other people who own and love your breed can be a truly wonderful resource for anyone who is working through training challenges. In addition, breed enthusiasts often have a world of knowledge and experience to offer for someone who is just getting started. For more information contact the GPCA.
A publication of the Great Pyrenees Club of America, Inc. 1996