Monday, February 09, 2009

Learning point of the day - hand signals

Today I went along to watch a session of the obedience class where Jessie and I start next week. Jessie was unbelievably good. Better behaved, in fact, that some of the dogs coming to the end of their training. She didn't try to go after the ball that the lady was playing with as a deliberate temptation the dogs had to ignore. She didn't go after the broom. She didn't bark at the wheelchair. She socialised most politely with the other dogs present and, in the only situation that degenerated into snarling and snapping, she wasn't the aggressor.

I watched the hand signals used to teach the dogs to sit, stay, and 'down' (lie down). The general rule is to hold your hand at the height you want the dog's head to be (which was a bit tricky for the older lady with the tiny border terrier). So to get him to stand, you use the verbal command and hold your hand at his standing head height. To get him to go down, you use the verbal command and drop your hand to the height his head will be when he lies down. The exception is 'sit', for which you bend your arm at the elbow and raise your hand to shoulder height, palm towards you, back of the hand towards the dog. I guess because, when a dog sits, he feels as if he is raising his head.

When you want the dog to stay, you show him a flat palm, as you would if you were directing traffic to stop.

The ideal is to reach the point where they obey the spoken command without the hand signals.

The lady who was running the session is training up a dog to be used by a person in a wheelchair and she showed us a few of the extra commands that such a dog (also called Jess) needs to learn. For example, she needs to learn to take up her place behind the wheelchair, so that she can respond to either side as necessary, without crossing in front of the chair and endangering herself and the occupant. Even at 7 months old, she was so obedient and so willing it was heartening to watch.

Jess and I start at 10:30 next Monday, but, after all the conflicting messages we have been receiving, it was a real boost to hear that we might have to be shunted to the 11:30 class because the 10:30 class is for beginners and Jess might not need that level of training! The 11:30 class is for those who have graduated from the 10:30.

Way to go informal learning for dogs! Way to go, Jessie!

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