Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ December 2018

Starting on the Right Paw:  My 4-H Project Training Dogs and Their People

By Elsa Sellmeyer

Did you know that, with some time, some treats, and some patience, you can easily give your dog a basic obedience education?  I have just completed my 4-H Diamond Clover Level Six project, which focused on building partnerships between people and their dogs via basic training.

The author with her Catahoula Leopard Hound, Katrina, who was the model for everything Sellmeyer teaches in her online training video.

When most people think of 4-H, animals come to mind, but the scope of 4-H is, in fact, much broader.  Montgomery County 4-H boasts a diverse range of clubs that cover topics including community service, storytelling, public speaking, inventions, robotics, and many others, as well as the traditional animal clubs.  I am a member of Zenith Club, which focuses primarily on public-speaking skills and community service.

Diamond Clover is an optional awards program within 4-H with the purpose of encouraging members to step outside their comfort zones, broaden their horizons, and learn to be productive members of their communities.  I have just finished Level Six, the last level of Diamond Clover, which requires members to propose and execute an extensive service-learning project that involves community, has a lasting impact, and is sustainable even after the member has moved on.

Sellmeyer teaches Cimba how to walk on a leash.  The Lhasa Apso is a resident of the North Four Corners neighborhood.

My Diamond Clover Level Six project was centered around the creation of a video about training dogs, in which I demonstrated how to teach useful commands to make dogs easier to live with, work with, and further train, therefore creating better partnerships between people and their dogs.  I was inspired to do this project after my family adopted a shelter dog with many behavioral issues.  We did extensive research into positive reinforcement training and spent many hours looking for quality videos to help us with training.  I wanted to make that process easier for other people and, in turn, increase success rates for newly adopted dogs and their owners.

I contacted the Montgomery County Humane Society (MCHS), a privately run, no-kill shelter whose mission is ending animal homelessness through education, outreach, and adoption.  My hope was that they, and possibly other adoption organizations, would make the video available to their clients and the public in an effort to increase the percentage of successful adoptions and promote positive training methods.  MCHS Humane Educator Addie Soares was completely supportive, so I wrote my 4-H proposal and began planning my work.

Indie, a Husky mix, ‘waits’ patiently until Sellmeyer gives her the signal to eat the treats resting on her forepaws.

I reached out to my community and selected 10 dogs in need of varying degrees of basic training, some of whom live in the North Four Corners neighborhood.  I involved friends and my mom as videographers, who recorded me working with each dog from start to finish, so my video accurately portrays the training process, complete with problems encountered.  I worked closely with Ms. Soares throughout this project to make sure the end result was a video MCHS would find useful.  To reach a broad audience and ensure sustainability of my project, I gave my video to MCHS to use in its education program and I published it on YouTube so it is free and accessible to everyone.  To further promote it, I designed posters with a QR code to the video [view poster] and provided them to many local animal shelters and veterinarians’ offices.  Ms. Soares invited me to be a guest speaker and present my video at an outreach and education event after my project was finished.

The ‘Wait’ Command

One of the commands I demonstrate in my video is “wait.”  Have your dog sit or lie down, tell him/her “wait,” and set a treat in front of him/her.  Remove the treat whenever your dog moves toward it, and your dog will eventually stop trying to take it.  Say “okay” to tell your dog he/she can eat the food, and gradually require him/her to wait longer before getting the treat.  Watch my full video [on YouTube] to see a demonstration of teaching “wait” in different scenarios, as well as “sit,” “down,” “come,” “drop it,” “leave it,” “go to bed,” and “heel.”

I hope that, by sharing my project with our North Four Corners neighborhood, some of you will find my video useful in working with your own dogs and that you will pass it on to anyone else who may find it helpful.  If you appreciate the video, please consider a donation of time, supplies, or money to MCHS.

[P.S. from the Author:  You may have noticed that my article uses “he/she” to refer to dogs whose genders are unknown to me.  However, I prefer to use singular “they” in such a scenario.  Many people feel that “they” is solely a plural pronoun, but “they” is often used, especially in casual speech, to refer to someone whose gender is not known, and is also increasingly popular as a pronoun for those who do not identify with the traditional gender binary.  It is my intention to be all-inclusive, so I would like to inform you that the use of “he/she” in place of “they” in this article is strictly a choice made by the editor, and is not something I, as the author, condone.]

[Sellmeyer lives on Margate Road.  All three dogs pictured were adopted from animal shelters.]    ■

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