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Scott Rall: Fall tune-ups for your dogs


The Globe outdoors columnist

It was a cool evening earlier this week and the temperature in the air certainly got me thinking about the upcoming pheasant season, which is only about three weeks away.  

There is only one drawback to the cooler fall temperatures.  The pheasant season only lasts about 10 weeks and then when it closes, all that’s left to do is to freeze for about 90 more days until the frozen tundra starts to thaw.

I don’t mind winter, but I hate snow.  A cold winter with little shoveling is a might better than what we normally get. The dogs can tell that fall is coming, also. They get jumpier and more riled up every time I start heading for the door.

A dog, even a great dog is much like the average 12-year-old child. They know what to do and how to do it, and most of the time they do it in a way that makes mom and dad happy.

Even with this knowledge they don’t always do it right, if they do it at all. Tell the kid to clean their room and most times they will do it, but there is always that one time or another where they just choose to watch TV instead. My dogs are the very same. They know what to do and how to do it and sometimes they plain and simply choose not to comply.

This is where a dog refresher course comes in. My dogs are 8, 6, 4, and 2. Each is pretty skilled in a wide variety of tasks. Tell them to sit or give the command “here” and they do as they are told.  Other times the here command will result in a “I’m going to go over and smell this unusual spot instead” response.

Dogs need a routine that shows them who is the leader of the pack, and occasional they will need a reminder. The reminder starts out with a leash and a choke chain.  

It is a collar that tightens as the leash is pulled.  The harder the pull, the tighter it gets. I use a collar of this nature for a specific reason.

Imagine I tied one of those old-style clothesline ropes around the waist of a 200-pound man and had him walk 30 yards away. If I wanted him to come over to me and I pulled as hard on the rope as I could, I could not even budge this guy. The rope would just stretch and he would just stand there and scratch his chin. The re-enforcement of the request using this tool would not be sufficient to create compliance.

When you tell a dog to heel, you want him to walk right next to you on the left or the right. If you attach a leash to a dog’s regular web collar you get much the same reaction as the clothesline rope.  The dog’s neck and shoulders are the strongest part of the dog’s frame. Pulling on a leash by you, will in most cases just cause the dog to pull even harder against you.

On the other hand, a firm jerk on a leash attached to a chain collar creates an impact that tells the dog the guy or gal on the other end means business. Do not in any way interpret my comments to mean that you can yank on a dog as strongly as you can.  My motto is to always use the least amount of correction necessary to get compliance, but that in the end you need to achieve compliance. The worst way to control an out-of-control dog is with a body harness. This attaches around the dogs’ frame and looks just like the ones an Alaskan sled dog would use. The human’s ability to control a dog with one of these is almost zero.

Going for a training/refresher walk with me will include repeated sit, heel and here commands.  Corrections with the leash will be used when necessary.

It will take my dog about 30 seconds to understand that these are working/training walks and compliance is required. After a few minutes with the hands-on leash and chain collar I will then transition to the electronic training collar and repeat the procedure.

These training/refresher sessions last a total of about 15 minutes and are always finished up with some fun bumper retrieves. It ends the session with the dog’s spirits on a high note.

I run through these motions with each dog every 3-4 weeks in the offseason. It does not matter how old the dog is. Each and every dog will act like a 12-year-old who does not want to clean his/her room.

The lesson in dog ownership is very important. That being, it is much easier to maintain good behavior with a little time each week than it is to let the dog run the show for nine months and then be in the need of a big direct attitude/behavior change three days before the season opens.

Repetition, routine and re-enforcement of known desirable behaviors is the key to having a great dog. Each and every person can train a dog. They just need to commit the time and energy initially and then be ready and willing to do refreshers as required.