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By April Rifenburg

     All dogs need to have Good Manners! A well trained dog is much easier to live with and is more likely to be a welcome guest.

     As more legislation is passed in this country to control dogs and their ownership, it is imperative that our dogs be trained. This forum offers some great advice to all Bernese owners, whether their goal is a well behaved pet or an obedience title. Any dog with good manners is fully capable of earning a CGC (Canine Good Citizen). Many owners get hooked on training and go on to earn various obedience titles.

     AKC has several obedience titles that are fun as well as challenging to earn. The CD (Companion Dog) title is within reach of the majority of dogs. Many people go on to earn a CDX (Companion Dog Excellent) title, and/or UD (Utility Dog) title. AKC has higher achievements to reach such as a UDX (Utility Dog Excellent) and OTCH (Obedience Trial Champion).

     There are a host of other registry obedience titles. There are also tournament events such as Gaines Obedience Championships, where in order to participate, a dog must have achieved a 193 average of three legs. In the Gaines Classic, the dog must have a 195 average of three legs in order to participate!

     The main reason we have a dog is for companionship. Bernese need a job to do. Obedience training helps the owner gain control and teach manners, creates a very special bond, prevents boredom, helps satisfies the Berner’s need to be with and next to his owner, gives the dog a job to do, and can become an enjoyable sport. And it is fun because our dogs can teach us all kinds of things in the process!

     I think that some Berners have a more “upbeat” attitude than others. Mine are all different. I “cultivate” from puppyhood the attitude I want to see in the ring. From beginning stages on, I do not drill a dog. I always aim to “leave the dog wanting more” — of anything. I use a variety of rewards or combinations of rewards: food treats, retrieving, bouncing, pushing, tugging, playing and putting on my silly suit.

     Bernese do not like endless repetitions. Most learn quickly.

     I avoid allowing the dog to make a mistake especially in the teaching phase. I make the steps of learning easy so the dog can be successful. If the dog has difficulty with something, I never hesitate to back up or totally re-teach.

     Most Bernese are sensitive, especially after age 3 or so. Because they have a strong desire to please, it is easy to overpressure and turn them off to working with you.

     Negative corrections do not work well on Berners, especially in advanced training. They need a ton of positive reinforcements to keep them eager. Methods used in the teaching phase need to be extra positive. In the proofing stages after the dog has learned the task, I may “correct” for refusal or distraction with a negative voice sound. I always follow any correction, no matter how mild, with praise of some sort. Any correction should be the mildest necessary, followed by immediate praise when the dog is doing right. If a person is having to do a lot of correcting, the dog is confused or has not learned the task. Be fair, re-teach.

     In advanced training especially, I try to avoid the “double whammy” correction, in which a physical corrective gesture is used simultaneously with a negative voice. Such a double correction is too much for most Bernese in advanced training stages and is very liable to cause stress and loss of attitude.

     An example of a correction on the Directed Retrieve: Stop dog from going to wrong glove either with voice or flexion. Hold hand signal aiming towards the correct glove. Look at the glove. Say nothing. Keep smiling. If dog does not start towards the correct glove, take a slow step towards it — still holding the hand signal, smiling, looking at the glove, and saying nothing. Keep this up — one slow step at a time — until the dog retrieves the correct glove. Praise when he does!

     Heeling can be very boring to a dog, especially in unimaginative classes. Lots of turns and unexpected moves help my dogs. I do break them out of group heeling, especially large circles of endless heeling if or when the dog is losing focus or getting bored. On the time-out, we play or just pet, and eventually rejoin the group. With luck the group is doing something else. On occasion, I have alternated dogs when the class has overly long heeling times.

     At home I do more heeling practice if I am getting ready to show the dog. Often I will heel a dog for a minute or two with no collar/leash, just motivation of some sort such as toy, voice or treat. And they thought I was playing! Good concentrated heeling needs to be built up for stamina and precision over a period of time. A dog cannot heel for 10 minutes if he cannot heel for one.

     Some people ask if it is easier to train a male or a female. Either sex presents its own set of challenges! Personality is unique with every dog regardless of sex. A female is liable to be moody with hormonal surges. A male can easily be overcome with all the good smells in the ring. A neutered animal of either sex is ideal as they have a tendency to be more focused on their handler and less on other dogs. Bernese in general are very distractible as to what is going on in the surroundings. A friend, who is an obedience judge, told me that during the “stays,” the working breeds are the ones whose heads are turning every which way to observe any and all surroundings.