Buster the Portuguese Water Dog

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Sam Basso
PHOENIX , AZ AREA: (602) 708-4531
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portuguese water dogBuster is a good friend of mine. Buster is a young male Portuguese Water Dog. He is still in training, and isn’t yet a year old. As are all young male dogs, he’s a work in progress. Lori, his owner, is also learning a lot in the process, not only about dog training, but what makes Buster tick. Good dog training involves not only training the dog, it involves training the owner.

Buster, and Lori – his owner – are “lifers”, meaning that we are continuing the training just for the fun of it. Lori has also become a good friend, which is always something I treasure. Buster’s training is a hobby for Lori, and we are seeing how far he can go. Not only is that fun for everyone, including Buster, it makes for a great adult dog later on. A side benefit is the more he is trained, the more affectionate and loyal he becomes for Lori. He is starting to watch over her, and take responsibility, because of the close bond we are developing in him. Others are noticing him, too. He was recently featured as dog of the month for a local branch of a national doggie daycare chain. He really stands out when you put him aside other dogs. You see what a great dog he is, and all the hard work Lori has put into her dog. He is extremely well mannered for a dog of his age and makes a good impression wherever he goes.

When you first meet Buster, the first thing he’s going to do is size you up to decide if he trusts you. He is clearly a watchdog, alerting Lori whenever someone approaches their home. But, he’s in no way ferocious. Once you get to know him, he’s quite a friendly and interesting.

Buster is an affectionate, playful, spirited, well mannered, loyal and intelligent older puppy, but he’s also got that defiant streak which is typical of the breed. In our lessons, Lori has taught him a lot of things and both have come a long way throughout the training. We are now working at getting him to obey – without toys, treats, leash or collar. He also started out a bit shy because he was adopted from the breeder at 4 months of age (it is best to get a puppy at 8 weeks of age, and then begin the socialization immediately), so I made sure we spent considerable time socializing him and building his confidence in us and around other animals before we got to this stage of the training. If you are working with a dog that is defiant, at some point you are going to have to demand obedience, and the only way you can do that successfully and not have the dog run away from you or get depressed is if you have a good core of trust established. Because I’m an experienced trainer, I can now make demands of him, and not only will he obey me, but I get the side benefit of a ton of affection and attentiveness from Buster. Right now, the task is teaching Lori how to issue adult level commands and getting the same result. The breed standard explains that this is a “self-willed” dog, and that has proven to be true, and is not to be considered a fault in Buster. This breed isn’t going to just do what you ask, you have to carefully work with your relationship to have them obey your commands.

We are also now teaching Buster advanced off leash and retrieving skills. It was this more advanced training that allowed me to use him for this studio photograph for my web page. Buster, like all Portuguese Water Dogs, is also drawn to water. So, we are laying the foundation for some pretty fancy water obedience, just like you would teach a hunting retriever. He is learning how to fetch objects – any object we identify – and return them to the handler on command. That could be as simple as being told to bring in the newspaper, or fetching a toy out of a lake and bringing it back, or even retrieving something in the case of an emergency like a service dog. A Portuguese Water Dog is a working dog, so fetch can be turned into something more than just chasing a ball. It can be turned into a set of useful and fun tasks to perform.

Buster loves me, and I love him. He’s great! He’d be very easy for me to have as my own, just as gentle and peaceable of a family member as you could ever want. And I like that he’s watchful over the home and his master – those traits always get bonus points from me. Yet, he’s still a puppy, not fully grown, and has a lot of work to go in order to be all that he can be. We’ve been very patient in the training. If the early foundation is faulty, then you pay for it later on. He’s right on track for his age, and is going to be pretty amazing as an adult. I will keep you up to date on his progress.

UPDATE: Buster can now do directed retrieves like a hunting dog, on land and in water. He will retrieve on command (which isn’t the same as playing fetch as a game). He will fetch an object on command, and then bring it back, coming straight to the handler and sitting in front with the object in his mouth, and then releasing the object on command (“Out”). He will do this up to 50 yards distance. We have NOT used electric collars to do this, just good old fashioned hard work and patience. Next is to add multiple objects and jumps, so we are now going to introduce agility equipment. He will be able to do the same skills that it would take to get a UDX title in the AKC before spring, and do all the skills it would take to compete in agility by then.

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Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.