Saturday, May 21, 2011


If, from home, I drive eight minutes in one direction, I come to PetSmart.  Home Depot is about the same distance in another direction. Both stores offer excellent opportunities for competition obedience training.  I have used those opportunities for two decades as I have prepared my young dogs for the ring.

Both offer unique types of distractions, and timing is everything.  I don't expose my young dogs to the high-intensity distractions found in those environments until they are super-ready.  That means they've had a long period of work in the sanctuary of the backyard (probably a year) followed by incrementally more distractive distractions in city parks and similar environments.  When they are solid and comfortable in those venues -- and only then -- we're ready for exposure first to PetSmart.


Stinkpot's first training exposure to PetSmart is heeling on leash.  We begin in the back of the store where it's generally pretty quiet.  But we're gradually working our way toward our objective, the center aisle where all the action is.

We start on-leash for the most obvious reasons.  But there's one more.  I'm playing head games not only with the dog, but with the store management as well.  PetSmart welcomes on-leash dogs.  Ultimately we're going to be doing lots of things off-leash, and I want the store management to get used to seeing this oh-so-good little dog performing beautifully on-leash.  Then one day he's heeling with the same precision . . . only off-leash.

Once we've passed that barrier, we've opened up the opportunity to do signals and scent articles off-leash and right in the epicenter of all the activity.

The experience that I value the most at PetSmart is long sits and downs.  Again, I must emphasize that sits and downs at PetSmart come only after the progression of solid performance has passed through the backyard, parks and playgrounds.  How long does that take?   It depends on the dog.

At PetSmart, we start on a longline.  Not a flexi; a flexi pretty much requires me to stay in sight.  Besides, have you ever seen a 50-foot flexi?  Again, we'll probably start in a remote, quiet area of the store.  But not for long.  Stinkpot has graduated to PetSmart because he's solid.  I trust him.

Quickly we're in the center aisle where he'll have to contend with people, people with carts, people with dogs, people without the sense they were born with.  Yes, there are environmental problems that must be dealt with, but the proofing advantages are worth the trouble.

Here's this little (or big) dog parked in the center aisle, being so good, so cute.  Such an attractive petting object.  Or worse:  " I just wanted Fluffy (a 100-pound Rottweiler) to meet this good dog."  At which point, by the way, both of my border collies would excise Fluffy's Adam's apple.

To counteract the schmoozing reflex, I've printed stand-up signs.  One sits on the floor in front of the dog, the other in back.  Each says (in large bold type) "Please don't pet me.  I'm practicing obedience."  That stops most of the knuckleheads, but not all.

With the dog on the longline and eventually the line on the floor, I gradually back away to 50 feet.  Again, that line serves two purposes.  Of course it's there if I need it.  Its presence for a few sessions also reassures management.  In two decades of doing this, I've never had a store manager sqawk when the line disappeared and so did I.

I have one more piece of equipment in place while this is going on, a rubber mat.  PetSmart's floors are slippery and the dog's hind legs slide out from under him during the sit.  The type of mat used in a shower works perfectly.

Once I've moved back to the full distance, I begin disappearing behind the store shelves for brief then lengthening periods. I always find an out-of-sight spot where I can see the dog but Stinkpot can't see me.  Most recently, working with Bravo!, I found two rows of bird cages, back-to-back.  I had a clear view of Bravo! but he couldn't see me.

It's also fun to watch people as they approach the dog. Often they're intent on shopping, then suddenly they realize there's this dog sitting in the aisle all by himself.  They look back over their shoulder; maybe there's no one there.  That's when they realize what a good dog they're seeing.  And often they say just that as they pass the dog.

Coming in a few days, Part 2:  Home Depot



  1. I really like all of those ideas. I didn't realize how many things you can train/proof for in PetSmart.

    I used to go to PetSmart with Layla several times a week. About half the intention was to expose her to new things, and the other half was because I liked a guy who worked there.

    I never let her socialize with other dogs (there, or anywhere really; she doesn't need to "say hi" or make friends) primarily because even though SHE was vaccinated and healthy, who knows about the other dog.

    Anyway, it turned out that my PetSmart guy also is a beach cop in the summer, wrote me a parking ticket for breaking a law that I didn't even know existed, and that was the end of that.

    I also contacted the three nearby airports (Atlantic City, Newark and Philadelphia, in my case) to ask if they allow dogs in training in the terminals, because I remembered reading about that in your first book, but unfortunately they don't.

    I haven't ever gone to Home Depot with a dog though, so I'm looking forward to reading about that, as well as hitting up PetSmart. A different one this time.

  2. I too find PetSmart a good place to train my 3yo sheltie, especially on rainy or winter days. I also take my aussie puppy there at least once a week for socialization and just plain learning how to behave in public.
    Love your books and the blog. Thanks!