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Letters from the Doghouse: Sharing the Joy of a Dog's Pleasant Surprise

I love when you tell us stories. Could you share with us times that a dog you were training gave you a pleasant surprise, behaved in a way you didn't expect?

Q. I love when you tell us stories. Could you share with us times that a dog you were training gave you a pleasant surprise, behaved in a way you didn't expect?

A. This question made me smile. And today, as I answer it, I am smiling again. You see, before I sat down to work on the column I was working with a Labrador who surprised me today. He's been a total stubborn guy this week. Honest to goodness, sometimes I look in his eyes when we start working and I see the defiance of an eighth-grader.

I went out to work with him again expecting a bullhead ready to defy. But, instead, there was this cooperative Labrador. He responded to commands when they were given, he stayed in 'sit' or 'down,' he did a perfect 'heel' and came when I called. I got the treats out and his work on 'leave it' and 'easy' paid off. He wagged his tail as he healed around with me. He stayed in commands until I told him he was done. He even did the 'back-it-up-and-sit' at the door. What a pleasant surprise.

That's how it almost always is. In 25 years of business, I have yet to meet a dog that doesn't go through some sort of rebellion, challenge its owners, and make them question their ability, mine, and why they got a dog. Week after week they come to class and the dog makes big improvements at first, then they slack off. About mid-training the dog reaches a plateau of sorts and many owners decide they are pleased enough and stop training.

I urge every person taking a dog through obedience training to stay the course. Even when the rebellious days set in, stay the course. For, one day, the surprise comes. You give a command fully prepared for the defiant eyes, the locked shoulders and legs, and the tense body. But instead, your dog looks at you and obeys. In total shock, you give another command thinking it was a fluke . . . and he obeys. This is the day dog trainers and owners long to see. He has resigned himself to your authority. This doesn't mean he'll never challenge you again. But it does mean those challenges will decrease until they're rare.

Back to the Labrador. Even after all of these years, his obedience this morning surprised me and I thought it was a fluke. So, after playing with him some then giving him a rest in his kennel, I took him out and worked with him again. No fluke, he obeyed. And, I'm pretty sure I saw him smile. He liked the extra treats, too.

Stay the course with your dog. It's a lot of work, and you'll have discouraging moments. But, at some point you'll have the moment of surprise. It's well worth it. Stay tuned, the next couple of weeks I'll share some more canine surprises.

Chandra Lynn Smith owns Best Friend Dog Training. She holds a bachelor's degree in animal bioscience, has eight years experience as a veterinary technician, and is a certified professional dog trainer from the National K9 School of Dog Trainers. She's been training dogs since 1984. You may address your questions to her via email at, or by mail to The Evening Sun, c/o Chandra Lynn Smith, 135 Baltimore St., Hanover, PA 17331