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Bostons participate in many sports. You will find them in the obedience ring, agility trials, flyball and even tracking events. A healthy, sound Boston is an athlete who can hold her head up among the best of them. Your Boston can sail over the jumps and race around the ring, exuding joy at every turn, in all of these sports and maybe more.
The Boston Terrier Club of America supports Bostons in performance events by holding both an obedience and an agility trial at its annual specialty. The club also recognizes the achievements of our breed at its annual awards banquet, awarding certificates to dogs who are in the top ten in the First and Foremost Obedience rating system and title awards to persons achieving titles in any performance event. Their annual Parade of Title Holders (formerly Parade of Champions) has included Bostons who have earned obedience titles for the past ten years and now also includes Bostons with agility titles.
Obedience tests your dog’s ability to perform on command certain basic activities.
The highest obedience level (Utility) requires your dog to heel at your side without any verbal command, stop and stay in a standing position until you signal her to down, then sit, then come. At this level your dog also learns to find and retrieve an article that has your scent on it, stand while you continue moving and wait for an examination, then come to your side again, retrieve a soft object from among three as you direct and finally to leave you, going straight out and return to you over two types of jumps based on your direction. These exercises are called the signal exercise, scent discrimination, directed retrieve, moving stand and examination and directed jumping, and they take a while to train; however, your Boston is probably very smart and will learn them quickly if taught motivationally and positively.
Agility is a terrifically fun activity to do with your Boston, who will love the excitement of running, jumping, climbing and racing through tunnels. Your very smart Boston will learn this quickly too and will be very pleased with himself when he has completed the course. You too will learn that you can run faster than you thought possible (keeping up with your Boston), and that such physical activity is very exhilarating for you.
Bostons compete in the sport of Flyball, and have been known to earn tracking titles. Flyball is another fast moving sport. It requires the dog to speed through a set of jumps to catch a ball in mid-air and return to the beginning. Tracking involves – well, tracking. The dog uses her nose. Don’t you ever believe the myth that Bostons, because of their short noses, don’t smell as well as other dogs. Sometimes they may not smell as good, but that’s probably because they ate something a little rich for their systems.
All of these activities require that you have a physically and temperamentally sound Boston, the kind you should expect from a responsible Boston Terrier breeder.
Your Boston, as previously noted, is probably smart, which means that she will learn quickly. She is also very people oriented and anxious to please you. These are good qualities for training, although their intelligence may sometimes be a mixed blessing. You will be surprised what you can teach them inadvertently, because they figure things out a little differently that you expect them to. But that’s what makes the training a challenge, and we do thrive on challenge, don’t we?
Some Bostons may require many repetitions to learn each exercise, but generally too much repetition will “worry” your Boston. If she has done it right the first and/or second time, I suggest you resist the temptation to keep on doing the exercise at this particular training session. If you do, you will soon notice your dog’s performance deteriorating. At that point, you will realize it would have been better to quit while he had a success to think about.
Your Boston will work for food – more specifically will work for special food called treats or “cookies”. He may be motivated by a toy, a ball or a tug toy. Whatever he likes, use it to show what you want him to do and reward him for doing it right. While treating, always give lots of praise so the praise becomes associated with the treat. You can’t take treats into the competition ring, but you can take the praise.
After your dog has learned the exercise, you may find you need to correct a mistake occasionally. When that is needed, use the least correction necessary to get the point across. Some Bostons will rebound quickly from a correction – or are pretty much undaunted by it. Most, however, will be sad and sorry, so whatever correction you use MUST be followed by lots of praise and encouragement (not by a treat though, as that should be saved for the good dog performance).
Many people train their dogs on what is called a choke collar – a collar which essentially pops the dog in the throat when tightened. This is a risky kind of collar to use with your Boston, as our lovely breed frequently has problems in the trachea area. Using motivational techniques, treats and toys, will allow you to train your dog using a flat collar or a variation; however, you will reach a stage where a correction is needed to emphasize that doing the exercise is not a choice for your dog to make. I recommend using a prong collar for this correction. One study comparing the use of a prong collar over the use of a choke collar in dog training showed tracheal damage from the use of the prong in only one out of fifty dogs, while over half the dogs using the choke collar suffered permanent tracheal damage.
There are those who recoil in horror at your using a collar with prongs up against your dog’s neck, but have no problem with your “choking” your dog either by repeated pops or, in cases where folks don’t properly use it, by dragging the dog around with the choke collar tightly pulled against his neck. I suggest that the prong collar, which gives a correction evenly around the neck area, is logically less likely to damage the trachea. If you worry about hurting your dog, put the prong around your wrist and pop it a couple of times. If that doesn’t hurt you much, then you will see that it won’t hurt your dog much either. One caveat, however – prong collars can not be used anywhere around the show grounds at an AKC event. That’s OK, though, because you are using it as a teaching aid. You can’t correct your dog in the AKC obedience or agility ring either.
Finally, let me suggest two things to keep in mind when training your Boston. First, don’t let anyone tell you your Boston is not trainable, not good at obedience or agility or that you can’t compete. Although it is a recently established title, there is already one Boston who has obtained the MACh title (Masters Agility Champion), and there are other Boston agility champions in progress. A Boston Terrier was among the winners at a recent international agility competition. A Boston Terrier has attained the title, Obedience Trial Champion, and they have attained numerous Utility titles and the UDX title as well. The OTCh was earned by Macky (OTCh Brother Mack Duff), owned by the author of this article, and he did it by winning many times over dogs from the so-called obedience breeds, earning scores as high as 199, showing both indoors and out.
Second, because folks think Bostons are not naturals, when you do win with your Boston you can expect lots of glory for doing it. I find nothing wrong with milking that a little – after all, the fact that they are smart, athletic and anxious to please and, therefore, much easier to train than people think – well, that can be our little secret, can’t it?