from the February 1994 issue of the AKC Gazette.
Carol Lea Benjamin is a dog trainer and freelance writer living in New York City. She is the author of Surviving Your Dog’s Adolescence: A Positive Training Program.
Editor’s note:While this article was written about a Fox Terrier, it applies to Kerry Blues as well.
A call to train a Fox Terrier is always received with mixed emotions. John Howe, author
of Choosing the Right Dog, characterizes them as “scrappy, impulsive, extroverted, lovable dynamo(s).” My husband Steve and I call them zippers; speedy,
clever dogs that love to zip around the house in search of mischief, never too tired to play, and alas, never tired, period. Just the thought of a
Fox Terrier makes me want to shut off the phone and take to my bed with a good book. Still, despite my better judgment, I find myself attracted to
these little devils, the Smooth in particular.
Getting to know Gus
I met Gus at the ball field where the dogs of New York’s Greenwich Village gather to play. After a purely social visit, we began school with the traditional
on-lead sit-stay. When training a Fox Terrier, if you think of what it takes to follow a rodent into a hole and emerge successful rather than vanquished,
you will be patient about the many, many repetitions necessary to convince nearly any terrier that your suggestions ought to be followed. Finally,
Gus did his sit-stay and we were then ready for the recall.
Who’s the Boss?While taking any route necessary to reach your goal is the norm with Fox Terriers-meaning
the trainer will have to be even more stubborn than the terrier-not coming close when called was a learned problem with Gus. This happened, in part,
because Gus played off-lead in the park and discovered that, when loose he really didn’t have to come. This is often the price of exercising an untrained
dog off-lead. In addition, when playing fetch, Gus’ personal style was to get the tossed object and keep it. In fact, he found “keep away” a fun game
because it gave him the control he enjoyed.
Obviously, Gus could be tugged close. But the issue was to transform his desire to stay away into a passion for coming near. We had to find a way to attract
Gus or to intrigue him so that he’d come right up to whoever called him.
Calling Gus to come only got him to approach part way. Bending down got him a touch closer, but not within touching distance. Even holding a favorite ball
or squeak toy as a lure did not do the trick. What has always worked for me is to crouch, cover my face and make puppy noises. (Dog training is not
the profession for people who worry about their dignity.) Gus could not resist the puppy squeaks and the hidden face. He was all over me, just what
I wanted. As a reward, in addition to a quick, “Good boy!” and a quick pat (it was essential that I be able to touch him), I tossed the toy I had also
hidden and told him to go get it.
Beyond the BasicsAt the second lesson, I was delighted to see that Gus was doing an attentive sit-stay and
a lovely recall, coming right up to whoever called him. We proceeded outdoors to begin the heel, and as with the other two commands, Gus’ owners, Monica
and Arthur, expressed their belief that Gus would never get it. He had trained them well.
In fact, though Gus had been pulling and stopping on-lead, the heel was a piece of cake. The sit-stay had taught him how to learn as well as teaching him
to respect his owners. He cooperated wonderfully on the heel, needing only the smallest of corrections every once in awhile. Since Monica walks Gus
to work every day, she was delighted.
That Iron WillBut a terrier is a terrier, so we fig urea Gus’ iron will would show up somewhere else and
we didn’t have long to wait. A tiny piece of paper blew by and in a flash Gus became obsessive, intractable and hard of hearing. We began, “Leave it!”
and after 30 or so trials, Gus was still going after the piece of paper. However, on his last play date here, after I caught him stealing paper from
my office wastebasket, I took the crunched up piece of paper, told Gus, “Leave it,” and kicked the paper all over the office without his touching it
or stealing it again.
The down command presented another interesting problem. You would expect a newly adolescent, intact male to resist the command, but what Gus did, once
he found out that we would always place him in the down if he didn’t do it on his own, was to make a game out of the correction. You could tell him,
“Down,” and he would merely look at you with a twinkle in his eyes. When you reached for his collar and his forelegs to assist him down, he’d toss
himself sideways onto the ground, his eyes ablaze with fun.
Treating a correction as a game meant Gus would never lie down when told. After a week of gentle downs, we tried stepping on the lead. Gus did not like
that “game,” so one correction did the trick. He now lies down without being touched.
A Lesson with DexterOn Gus’ third lesson, he got to work with my dog Dexter. First we put Gus on a sit-stay and
I walked in circles around him with Dexter. Gus was steady as a rock. We did alternate recalls, too, placing the dogs side by side on sit-stays, then
calling one at a time. Each dog had to wait for his own name and not go running when his pal did. This helped sharpen Gus’ response a lot. The reward
for work well done was a play break.
We worked on heeling, too, passing each other and warning the dogs with, “Leave it,” for excessive attention to each other. In New York City, you might
easily pass 20 dogs on a single walk.
After our serious outdoor work, we took the boys indoors where they played a good, competitive game of “Smell it, Find it,” reenforcing Gus’ off-lead sit-stay
and allowing him to use his nose.
A lovable DynamoAt 10 months old, Gus is an impulsive, extroverted, lovable dynamo with pretty decent training.
Though intact, he is extremely friendly with other dogs, even other intact males. And while it is true, as John Howe said, that Fox Terriers are “not
for people who set a premium on peace and quiet,” we do love Gus’ visits. True, he barks a lot, he almost never rests and I find myself tossing a ball
to him even while I am writing, but his smooth good looks please me no end and I find his cheerful nature and love of life delightfully infectious.