Friday, December 18, 2009


I homeschool my dog.

My guess is that most people do, although I'm not sure how many people actually think of it that way. I know I didn't... at least not with my first dog. I took him to many classes, went through several training styles and even more instructors before I finally found a great one, read a ton of books, cried some tears of frustration, talked to a lot of people (not easy for this introvert) and frequently wondered why I seemed to be doing everything wrong.

I even had a person offer sympathetically (at least I hope that was the intent), "He's your starter dog," as if that was explanation enough. Starter Dog? What the heck is a Starter Dog?

Four years later, when dog #2 came into our lives at just shy of 8 weeks old, the sweetest little bundle of golden fur on the face of the planet (yes, I'm biased - get over it) I vowed I would do better.

I reread all my old books, rethought all my previous classes (with afore mentioned Starter Dog) and came to the sad realization that owners are often clueless about the long term and are desperately seeking  a "quick fix" to the problem of the day, most books are geared toward giving people what they think they want or need, and far too many instructors are incapable of teaching others how to train their dogs.

( That is what a typical "dog class" is for, of course, to teach owners how to train their dogs. It's not like the dogs whip out pencils and takes notes, after all. Most dogs, if asked, would say they were there to sniff friends, eat treats, and water the landscaping. )

And so, feeling the heavy burden of educating the little bundle of joy (piddling at my feet) the right way I thought, "Great. Now what?"

I knew if I was tasked with homeschooling my child (and yes, I did consider it - but thankfully (for him) only fleetingly) I would first take a look at what the law required. Fair enough. In my state, the law required... a rabies shot and a dog license.

Weee! I was done, woo-hoo!

Ok.. maybe not.

A child attends school. The school follows a curriculum to make sure it provides the right courses and meets the state standards.

Wikipedia defines curriculum as "the set of courses, and their content, offered at a school or university." It further states, "As an idea, curriculum stems from the Latin word for race course, referring to the course of deeds and experiences through which children grow to become mature adults."

Substitute "puppies" for "children" and "dogs" for "adults" and that's exactly what I needed - a curriculum. A canine curriculum. In a nutshell: A plan.

Not surprisingly, I didn't find much when I googled "Canine Curriculum". The AKC's Canine Good Citizen CGC certificate is one of the few that showed up. A good start - Starter Dog had his CGC - but that's more of a test than a plan, so I kept looking.

To shorten a very short story... that's it. The end. At least as far as neatly bundled packages went. Sure, there were lists of tricks, lists of service/assistance dogs skills, and the AKC provided lists of a wide variety of titling events... but those seemed more like Extra Curricular Activities, or even Higher Education. None if it seemed basic enough nor all encompassing enough for my bright-eyed little student (the one chewing on the table leg.)

Not to be deterred. I sat down and came up with a list of what I expected from my young charge (the one hanging off Starter Dog's ear) built upon my experiences with Starter Dog. I categorized and sorted, resorted and re-categorized until I had a Basic, an Intermediate and an Advanced Level, with each transitioning neatly into the next. I further broken the Basic down into three sub-levels, to make things more manageable. I then sat back and admired my handiwork.

It wasn't perfect, of course, but at least it was a start. Now all I had to do was teach it. 


It's nearly two years later. My little student is almost grown up, no longer piddles on the floor, and hasn't tasted the furniture in ages. Starter Dog still has ears, albeit at times they seem a bit longer than they used to be. At some later date I stumbled across a wonderful, free, on-line training plan by Sue Ailsby and I've been happily working my way through its Levels. I think it fits well with my original curriculum - particularly the more scholarly aspects such as stay, retrieve, and attention.

Despite my disparaging remarks about instructors, I do have one I hold in highest regard, and over many classes and she has taught this clueless owner much. But the joys and burdens of tuition of my still bright-eyed student remains with me.

This year, I will continue working through our curriculum, revising as needed to meet my student's changing needs. My goals for 2010 are now in place and I plan on putting out a Weekly Worksheet to better stay the course. It's my responsibility to see that my student is properly educated, and if he isn't, there is no one to blame but myself.

Oh, and Starter Dog? He's matured into the best dog a family could ask for.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope you keep up your blog. I recently got a 1 1/2 yr old rescue corgi. Very little socialization or training, but has potential. Like you, this is my second dog, and I really identified with your difficulty finding a good instructor. In fact, I never really did, but with reading, and taking some seminars, have made progress with my first corgi. I just discovered Sue Ailsby's website, and planned on useing that as a training plan. I would love to hear your progress.