Why Train—And for What?

My first dog training experience was when I was about seven. I talked my mother into letting me get a dog. We lived in an apartment that did not allow pets, so I got a Chihuahua. My mother though that you needed to know about everything you got into, so before I got my dog I read books about training and caring for dogs (yes, at seven)…and I saved my money. I paid &35.00 for my puppy who was an older puppy. And in the approximately one year that I had him, he learned to heel, sit down, and stay. Then I “got caught” and we could no longer keep him. A friend of my father took him and gave him a home. She coddled and spoiled him and he became a yappy, fat little ball of mean — the stereotypical picture of a Chihuahua. But when I had him, he was a DOG!

And that is why you train. Your dog will become what you want when you train. He will become proud and confident. And you will build a bond with your dog that will never be broken. You will each learn the other’s moods, body language, and idiosyncrasies.

I have trained dogs of all breeds for many years since that first puppy. I have learned more from the dogs than they have learned from me. And I have seen so many reasons for teaching your dog basic manners — which is what you do in rally and obedience. The most important reason is to have fun and spend time with your dog. Not just “we’re together” time, but real quality time where you and the dog are focused on each other. Once a dog starts this training time, he looks forward to it. With eight dogs in my house, when I say “it is time to go work: they are climbing over each other to be the “one to go.” They all love it!

Black Russian Terriers were bred to work. The whole reason for their existence was to fulfill a need that the Russian army had. They have a mentality that craves meeting that purpose. And that purpose is now YOU. Your dog wants to be with you, love you and protect you. Never underestimate this need. But for the dog to properly fulfill this need, you must teach the dog how and when to react to things. You do this  by getting to know your dog  building that bond, and teaching him basic manners. Before you can do anything else, you must be able to control your dog under all conditions and in all situations. This is where Rally and Obedience comes in.

There is nothing magical about working in the obedience and rally rings. It is simply a place that your can test your dog and yourself to see if you have succeeded in teaching him his basic manners. Rally is a less formal form of obedience. You can talk to your dog in the ring, you can give hand and voice signals and you can praise your dog. Obedience is very similar but much more formal with no extra commands, no talking and no praise until you are between exercises. Some dogs like on, some the other and some do well in both. Where to go to test yourself and your dog is your choice. But if your dog has learned to heel, sit, down, stand and stay while on leash, you can get a Rally Novice title. Just remember, Blackies are SMART!!! They bore easily, so don’t work your dog on repetitive exercise for extended periods. Get in, do it and go play!

Once you have accomplished  the manners goal, then the world is yours — and  your dog’s. There are so many things you can do. Carting, tracking, nosework, barn hunt, dock diving, herding, schutzhund, water rescue and the list goes on.

As said earlier, training your dog builds his mental capabilities. He learns to think — and that is not an exaggeration. All Black Russians are highly intelligent, and they all think, but the more you work with them the greater this capacity becomes. You also develop communication skills with your dog. The more he learns, the easier it is to teach him. I find that the hardest step with a puppy is teaching him that you are teaching him. Once he learns that you are going to give him a word and show an action that you want with that word, then training becomes a breeze. Once I start getting to more advanced work, I have had many dogs that only needed to be shown something one time with the word, and they have it! They have learned to learn.

There does seem to be a genetic predisposition for some dogs to do better in various areas of performance than others. This is supported by evidence now found with rats that training actually changes the DNA. The offspring of a rat who has learned to run a maze will be able to run the maze faster than offspring from rats who have never learned to run a maze. In my work with dogs, including Blackies, I have found that there are some dogs that are better at certain types of training than other dogs. Some have the patience for the tedious obedience that is necessary for really high scores. Others are willing to work, but as long as they are “close” to what is asked, they feel that is enough. Some dogs hate obedience, but love other forms of work. Macha, now my eldest girl, thinks both obedience and rally are boring, but she absolutely loves to pull. (Macha is AKC/UKC GCh., IABCA Ehren-S Ch. Zastava Bride of War CD, RAE, CA, URO2, CGCA, TT, BHI, CI — she has applied for her VD and TPD awards from the BRTCA for this year.) She is ecstatic when she sees me pick up her harness and head out for the garage where her cart is. On the other hand, Riki HATED carting. (Riki is AKC GCh.-B, UKC GCh., IABCA WCCH Russian Bear’s Riki Brianna CDX, RAE2, UCD, URO3, CGCA, TT, BHI, CS, SD, VD and was my first Black Russian — she has applied for her VDX and TPDX awards from the BRTCA for this year.) It was an insult, and she made it very clear that she could not do her job of protecting me if she was hooked to a cart! But I asked and she delivered, for we had built that bond. Because of this genetic predisposition, there is some credence in the idea of getting a puppy from dogs that have proven they can perform the type of work in which you are interested. But no matter what dog you have, it can learn and will be better for the training. So teach your dog the basics, get your basic title to prove yourself that both of you and  your dog have done your job…and then go find something else that is FUN!

I have recently had a very dramatic example of how much training can help a dog in its mental development. Most of you know about my boy, Ready (now Queen’s Over Ready for Battle RN, CGC, TT.) He is a Macha son, and at the age of four he came back ti me because of severe neglect. His owner had gone into a deep depression and just wasn’t coping. When I got him back, not only was he in terrible shape, but he had no manners, did not know his name and had the thousand yard stare. He did not understand about relating. I worked his physical issues, but after the first couple of days, we started him on his obedience. After all, he could not leave me to go to a new home with no manners. This is one reason why Rescue has so many male Black Russians — people don’t realize the necessity of manners in a dog this big and with this much guard instinct.

So we got started, and after the first couple of days, he was responding to his name and would get so excited when it was time to work. He knew when it was time to go out, and would run to the door to get his collar on. After only two days, he was sitting for me to slip the chain over his head. Working gave him pride in himself, and it gave him purpose. In two months he went from no manners and little response to people to being a secure, confident boy. He got his Rally Novice title in three straight trails and got his CGC the day of his last leg on his RN. Two weeks late he breezed through his ATTS temperament test with nary a bobble. This was not because of my skill so much as because he finally had a job and that made him happy. He had something to which he looked forward each day, and once he learned that I was teaching him, he gobbled it up faster than the food he was getting to help heal his body. Training was what healed his mind!

There is no doubt that breeding also played a part in Ready’s recovery. Many dogs would not have been able to respond so quickly after so much time of isolation and neglect. But Ready’s mother is Macha, who came from Zastava Kennels and Zastava is known for its working Siberian blood lines producing sound temperament and working ability. In finding Ready’s father (Caraul Tara’s Sarja — from Siberian and German working lines), I tried to continue the heritage I had been putting strong minds and a desire to work first. Both temperament and working ability are based in a sound mind, and Ready is a testament to the success of breeding for sound minds. I have heard people say that they do not have time to train a dog. He at Queens Over, I can always find five or ten minutes to work one of the dogs, and this is all it takes. All of my dogs have and AKC and UKC Grand Championship (except one young boy who is halfway to his AKC Grand.) They all at least a CD. They all have a RAE (except one girl who needs three more legs). They all have a CGCA and a TT. Temperament testing is an important tool in gaining insight into your dog and aid in his training. Four have carting titles, one has a coursing title, five have Herding Instinct Certificates and two have started in barn hunt. We are diverse because dogs like different things. I have a base that I want all my kids to do to develop their manners, but then I try to go where they lead and work on things each dog enjoys. But I believe in the idea of breeding working dogs and not simply saying “they could work, but…”. So my dogs work — for the fun and for their happiness.

People often ask if I will train their dogs and put titles on them, and anyone can get a trainer to do this. But both you and your dog will miss so much. You will miss the bonding the learning to communicate and the fun. So grab your dog, give him a hug…and then go train! Teach your dog what you want him to do. It will make him happy, and it will make you happy!