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Friday, August 17, 2012

Training a Chow Chow

I have a Chow Chow, possibly the best dog breed for a house pet. Chows are easy companions with an easy energy level that lets them easily live indoors. The story is that they were used by Chinese Emperors as palace guard dogs, that they were the original hunting dog and that Chows are a primitive breed perhaps from 12,000 years ago. Based on the two I have lived with this sounds reasonable to me. Whatever, Chows are still dogs and dogs have to be trained. Now I am training my second Chow and a Chow does not train easily. Chows have a cat like attitude about learning tricks; basically they have their own ideas about obedience. A Chow is fiercely loyal, protecting person and home selflessly, YouTube videos of Chows attacking bears to defend a mistress are common. The Chow usually wins. Chows are the perfect companion for someone living alone, wishing for a true friend and fearless protection. As a bonus they are really cute looking dogs. Training is challenging with a Chow, it is not a problem of smarts, it is a problem of attitude.
Dog training is basic behavioral conditioning. Chows due to their fierceness must be socialized, a Chow can eat a Pit Bull and the Chow’s master/mistress must have control of their pet. Socializing is best done as a puppy. My first Chow was a rescue dog. The guess of the veterinarian was that he was about 3 years old and most definitely unsocialized. Months of dedicated work was required to tame this beast. My current Chow arrived as a puppy and I immediately set about socializing the animal. With a puppy this is easy and fun, let children and other dogs play with the puppy, go on walks through the neighborhood and visit with everyone. Above all else the dog trainer must remain calm and confident. Socialization is basic and important with all dogs but the Chow by nature is antisocial, this is a preferred trait for a guard dog and a bad trait for a family pet. Don’t worry that your Chow will not guard the house and person due to socialization, they are loyal to only that small group of people they know and trust.
Dog training is basic behavioral conditioning. Teaching the Chow advanced commands can become a clash of wills. My Chow follows all commands immediately when I have a treat in hand, without the treat, commands become optional. This is where basic behavioral conditioning rules. Using treats I repeat the training exercise so many times that the Chow starts to think that obedience is the only available response. She finally becomes conditioned to respond only one way. I have the only Chow I have ever heard of that will catch a Frisbee and return it. I trained her off-leash because off-leash is when I most need her to obey. This added another layer of difficulty but is worth the extra work. I am not saying that off-leash training is difficult. I am saying that training a Chow is difficult.
Two foundational commands I like are "carry" and "hand". The carry command teaches the dog to carry something in their mouth while the hand command teaches the dog to hand me whatever is in their mouth. With these commands as a foundation I can then teach the dog to get my newspaper from the driveway or bring me a beer. An Australian Shepherd I had would bring me my daily newspaper, once I cancelled my newspaper she started bringing me the neighbors newspaper. I had to redirect her to getting my mail. This is where the Chow shows her independence, she knows what I want done, then just looks at me. She does the hand command well but makes up her own mind about the carry command. While the Aussie trained quickly if I ever face a bear I'd rather have the Chow.
Chows are excellent companions and easily accept the basic commands of sit, down and stay. Teaching them to bring in the newspaper, catch a Frisbee or dance through hoops requires commitment from the trainer. If I wanted an easy dog to train I would have gotten another Blue Heeler or German Sheppard. I picked a Chow and knew what I was signing up for. This is one great dog.

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