Obedience Can Be A Life-Saver for Your Dog

Alicia Graybill, Obedience Session at GLOC
Alicia Graybill, Obedience Session at GLOC

“First things first. Have your dog work on ‘Watch me!’ It’s a very important skill. Throw some treats and practice it.” A class of about ten adults with their dogs have gathered on the green rubber flooring of the home of the Greater Lincoln Obedience Club (GLOC) building. It’s a chilly November evening and the light outside has started to fade. Instructor Alicia Graybill rolls her wheelchair to the center of the class to observe and offer advice as needed while students review skills learned the previous week.

Later in the session, Alicia lightly holds onto the leash of a German Shepherd. The owner stands up against the far wall. Alicia then lets go of the leash and tells the owner, “Call your dog.” The owner orders her dog: “Come!” The dog instead runs to other owners who wait with their dogs for their turn. This time, when the owner calls “Come!”, Alicia’s young assistant keeps hold of the leash and keeps the dog on track as it runs back to its owner. Alicia and the dog’s owner immediately heap praise on the dog.

As the one-hour class nears its end, Alicia tells her attentive students: “Time for one more thing.” She instructs everyone to spread out and practice the command “Sit”. Some dogs properly keep their attention on their owners. Others look around, prompting their owner to redirect them. After a minute, Alicia calls: “Free!” Each owner echoes Alicia’s command, thereby releasing their dog from the “Sit” command. Praise and treats follow.

History of Obedience

The importance of obedience is the relationship that you develop with your dog. I love teaching things like impulse control, mostly taught as ‘leave it’, because it can save a dog’s life! The same can be said about teaching recall. It’s so important to teach a solid recall because you can keep your dog from being hurt or even killed if they can come to you reliably. In my teaching, I love to have fun with my dog and that is what I try to teach students too. Training is about having fun and building a great relationship with your dog.—Whitney Fritzinger

Obedience teaches dogs what to do in any situation. It doesn’t make ‘little robots’ out of dogs; instead, it makes them better companions. If dogs see or hear something that’s scary, they’ll look to the owner for guidance instead of running off or barking.—Marcy Graybill

Obedience as a sport began back in the 1930s. A breeder by the name of Mrs. Helen Whitehouse Walker was receiving recognition for the outstanding quality and character of her poodles. Like many poodle owners, Walker had had to fight the stereotype that poodles were nothing more than dogs with pretty haircuts. To persuade the public that poodles were as smart as any other breed, Walker devised a series of exercises to showcase their intelligence. In October of 1933, Walker held the first obedience test on her father’s estate in New York.

The following year, Walker’s kennel maid joined her on a road trip across the United States, on which they gave obedience demonstrations with the dogs. Enthusiasm for obedience training grew and, in 1934, Walker organized a second test to be held in conjunction with the June North Westchester Kennel Club show. Through the efforts of these two ladies, the first American Kennel Club (AKC) Obedience Tests were held in 1936. The tests were then divided into the three classes that we know today: Novice, Open and Utility.

While obedience is a competitive sport, it’s also considered the foundation to all dog training. In addition, obedience helps build a deeper relationship between an owner and their dogs. For these reasons, dog experts contend and therein lies a reason for every dog owner to learn it. The rest of my article will share highlights of my conversations with four GLOC obedience instructors about their backgrounds and experiences as trainers.

Obedience Instructors

Marcy Graybill
Marcy Graybill

For Marcy Graybill, it’s having one’s own dog that leads one to become a trainer. Marcy’s first dog was a German Shepherd puppy adopted from the Capitol Humane Society. Marcy didn’t know much about owning or training a dog. Her solution? To read a lot of library books about dogs and begin using her newly-acquired knowledge to train Lady. Along the way, Marcy discovered that she loved training dogs, Eventually, Marcy started volunteering for Capital Humane Society, where she helped train other dogs. With her second dog, Marcy became involved with the Greater Lincoln Obedience Club, and eventually became an instructor. “It’s much different from training just dogs, but equally rewarding.”

For Alicia Graybill, it’s having a challenging dog that leads one to become a trainer. Alicia’s Siberian Husky, Timber, kept climbing over fences. He always came back, but during his absence Alicia would spend a lot of energy looking for and worrying about him. She needed more control. Like Marcy, she read every library book available. One of her favorites remains Second Hand Dog, a smaller-sized book by Carol Benjamin. Although published in the 1980’s, and so in some ways outdated, Alicia believes the author was ahead of her time. “The psychology is sound. A dog needs to know what he’s doing right. That book taught me this lesson.” After Alicia experienced success in working with her dog, like her sister Marcy, she started to volunteer at the Capitol Humane Society. This led to her becoming a pet foster and to getting involved with GLOC.

Whatever their motivation for becoming trainers, all four of the obedience instructors I interviewed grew up with a love of dogs. Marcy even persisted in her love for dogs despite being bitten by a friend’s dog when she was a child. “He’d just been given a treat and I didn’t know any better.” Despite being scared, Marcy never stopped wanting a dog of her own. She’d pet sit whenever given the opportunity, take her neighbors’ dogs for walks, and even play with any animal that came near her.

If your dog barks, cover their eyes with your hands. They can bark and not see or see and not bark. As soon as they quit barking, take your hands away.—Robin Bonge

Teach your puppy (or kitty) to come when called. Start inside the house and always praise and give a reward such as a treat or a scratch behind the ears. Never call them and punish them. “Come” is the one command that could save your pet’s life.—Marcy Graybill

Robin Bonge
Robin Bonge

On the path to becoming an experienced teacher, mistakes will be made and lessons will be learned. When Robin Bonge first started to teach, she felt nervous and struggled to remember the names of students. Whitney Fritzinger remembers being too impatient with herself as a teacher and with her dog as a learner. In time, Robin has gained more confidence in herself as instructor. She’s also learned that despite how out of control dogs might seem at the start of a class, they’ll come around with work. Together with her dog, Maggie, Robin has taught puppies that obedience can be fun and rewarding. In time, Whitney has gained more patience. She’s also learned how to talk with many different people and work with all kinds of dogs. Marcy Graybill regrets the years of using force and fear. “This was back in the 1980’s and that’s how most trainers trained, but I feel guilty just thinking about it.” Over time, Marcy has learned that “each dog is an individual.” Because of this, “What works for one dog may not work for the next one. Keep your options open when training.”

Alicia Graybill explains how initially she wasn’t training “her dog”. Instead she was training an “imaginary dog”. Timber dog’s thick coat made him immune to corrective swats, yet Alicia persisted with the ineffective training method “I needed to start with dog that was ‘actually in front of me’. Once I did, training went better. Dogs learn in different ways. Timber didn’t like treats or toys. I found out by accident that he liked tanned rabbit skin. I used to carve designs in leather. One day I was experimenting with leather, when Timber grabbed it and ran out. Next, I put canned cat food in the leather hide. Eventually, Timber got to where he liked treats.” Alicia says that she faced a steep learning curve with Timber, but gradually he became a joy to train. The two went on to do obedience, agility, and musical freestyle together.

GLOC has many people who teach different classes. We are about teaching a variety of reward-based activities to dogs. If we have a question that we can’t answer, we find someone who can.—Robin Bonge

GLOC is many things. It’s a community where you can find friends who share common interests. It’s a family. We all have dogs and understand the challenges and responsibility that comes with dog ownership. It’s a remarkable resource that is unmatched in Lincoln. If you have a dog related issue you can be sure someone else has experienced the same issue or knows someone else who has.—Whitney Fritzinger

Being a teacher can provide one with many memorable moments. Some of those will be funny, others embarrassing, and some special. Marcy told of her realization that her dog, Lady, needed more exercise than a simple walk, and so she began training her to run alongside a bike. “It was early in our attempts to do this and Alicia often came with me, just in case. We were biking down the John Dietrich bike trail and a little poodle came running out of a back yard. I called back to Alicia, ‘Look at the cute Poodle!’ Lady decided it was an invitation and she took off sideways to go and meet the pup. I flew after her sliding along the ground. We stopped when she got to the fence. I was unhurt and the two had a great meeting. I never did say anything to the man gardening, but I’m sure he was incredibly shocked to see a big dog dragging a big girl and her bike into his back yard.”

Whitney Fritzinger
Whitney Fritzinger

Alicia shared an equally funny and embarrassing story. She wasn’t technically training Timber, but just out in the field with him. Because of his “escape artist” nature, she had him on a thirty-foot leash. Marcy and her dog, Lady, were just ahead. Alicia kept hold of Timber’s leash and put her hands into her pockets. Marcy called out, “Come!” to Timber and Alicia didn’t think to let go. Her pants split down the side.

The other two instructors also had their embarrassing moments. Robing recounted the time when she had to work late and so just had time to pick up Maggie and go to class. “After I told the students to potty their dogs, Maggie had an accident. It was totally my fault. I didn’t give her enough time before class.” Whitney shared about having a dog who is a nervous personality and who often “poops when he’s nervous”.

The biggest reason to check out GLOC is that all our trainers are volunteers. We do this for the love of the dogs, and the love of training. Beyond that, we have many trainers who have years of experience. If one trainer doesn’t know the answer, we can bring in another trainer and see what they suggest.—Marcy Graybill

Why GLOC? GLOC is the most economical. It’s also the premier training facility in area. The equipment is clean, safe, and appropriate. One must pass class criteria. If one doesn’t, the instructor might suggest taking the class again. The repetition helps and so can having a different instructor. We strive to give dogs the best training environment. My goal as training director is to promote dog sports and to encourage bonding between the dogs and their owners.—Alicia Graybill

Not every memorable moment is funny or embarrassing. Alicia’s pride showed when talking about taking Timber to a competition in Iowa. “Every dog went one at a time. No dog had a problem until second to the end recall. Nearby was an agility competition. Each time the teeter banged, the dogs in our competition would get spooked and refuse. I didn’t know what Timber would do. He did everything beautiful. The teeter banged. I called, “Come!” Timber came right to me. He was the only dog to qualify and so we got first. Timber could do about anything.”

Final Words

gloc_logoIn 2011, to strengthen my bond with our toy poodle, I enrolled us in a few obedience classes. Although Barnaby was already familiar with basic commands (“Sit,” “Down,” “Come,” and “Stay”) from training at home and from taking agility classes with my husband, he learned to accept those commands specifically from me because of the classes. In addition, we practiced some new commands such as “Heel” and “Leave It”. Barnaby does seem to now views me as equally important in his life as my husband. Barnaby hates to see me leave, waits for me to come home, follows me around the house (especially when Andy is gone) and curls up between Andy and me when we relax or sleep. Overall then, I’ve gained from the obedience classes what I had hoped: Barnaby looks to me for guidance and shares a bond with me. If you have yet to take an obedience class, considered the foundation to all dog training, I encourage you to check into one at GLOC today.

Thanks to the GLOC instructors who graciously took time to answer my questions!

  • Alicia Graybill is GLOC’s current training director. She has been a trainer with GLOC for sixteen years and has taught just about everything, including Obedience, Puppy Manners, Rally Obedience, Novice Ready, Tricks, and Musical Freestyle. For several years, she was a Humane Educator for Capital Humane Society. She’s also fostered for several rescues, and is currently providing foster care to a dog for Domesti-pups.
  • Marcy Graybill has been a trainer with GLOC for nineteen years and has taught just about everything including Basic Obedience, Clicker Obedience, Canine Good Citizen, Novice Ready, Rally Obedience, Reactive Dog Class, Rocket Recalls (seminar), Shy dog (seminar), and Tricks. For several years, she volunteered at the Capital Humane Society and remains willing to help at its special events. Each year, she goes to the GRRIN Goldrush and to offer the Canine Good Citizen test to the people who come to the event.
  • Robin Bonge was GLOC’s corresponding secretary from 2013-2015 and is currently the volunteer coordinator. She’s been a trainer with GLOC for four years and has taught Obedience.
  • Whitney Fritzinger is slated to become GLOC’s training director in 2017. She’s been a trainer with GLOC for 2014 and has taught mostly Obedience. She also volunteers for Nebraska Border Collie Rescue as the intake coordinator and events coordinator.
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