Last summer some Newfie breeder friends from the Mid-West visited us to take a look at our Landseers. While their main interest lies with conformation, before long the subject turned to obedience and their own experiences.
They had taken one of their almost champion Newfies to obedience class in the hopes of getting him ready for Novice work. Everything was going smoothly until midway through the course, when it came down to practicing the out-of-sight stays. The Newf, who apparently had not been previously acquainted with this exercise, broke. So the instructor, in an effort to teach the dog the exercise, rolled a coffee can in front of the dog whereupon the dog broke again. As a next step, the instructor, when the dog broke again, threw the can at the dog at which point the dog, in justified resentment, went into the nearest corner, sat down and growled at anyone trying to approach him until his owner came to get him. Our friends in turn left the course never to return again.
When I first heard this story I thought our friends were trying to put me on, but they insisted it was true. Assuming this story is correct, and I have no reason to doubt its accuracy (except that from a training point of view it defies credulity) it typifies why so many breed people are turned off by obedience – many have tried it and methods like these have had adverse reactions on their dogs. It also typifies much of what is wrong with obedience today. Personally I was rather intrigued by this method of teaching the dog the stays because I had never heard of it and I have considerable difficulty in visualizing its effectiveness. It would seem to me that the last thing one would want to do when teaching the dog this exercise is to distract him with a moving object, or, for that matter, throwing something at the dog. I am familiar with the technique of rolling an object in front of the dog, once he has learned the exercise, to test for steadiness. I do not think, however, that I would expect a dog to stay when something is thrown at him. Perhaps this technique has worked with some dogs for this particular instructor, but it obviously will set you back with others, if not work serious harm in which case it’s use demonstrates insensitivity on the part of the instructor to gear his techniques to a level of acceptability of ALL dogs. If we go on the assumption, as I think we must, that all obedience exercises are designed so they can be taught to any dog of sound body and mind by means of sensible methods, the use of methods which can inflict damage on some dogs is clearly inappropriate. There is also a distinction between what may be justified in some instances and not in others which must be kept in mind. Obedience training for competition is a sport and as such never justifies methods which may do damage to any dog as distinguished from those instances in which it is a question of curing a dog from a particular behavior problem in order to save him from being put down. Methods which may be justified in the latter instance may be quite objectionable in the former.
Another explanation of this particular instructor’s rather curious approach to teaching the stays may be that he simply has not done his homework and is unaware that there are other and much more effective methods with which this exercise can be taught.
More important, there are methods which are not as potentially counterproductive and which do not have the built-in roadblocks to success. Such inexperience on the part of an instructor is, of course, not exactly confidence-instilling. Is it any wonder that so many people get turned off by obedience under these circumstances?
A third explanation could be that the instructor here simply blew his cool and in utter frustration about this dog threw a coffee can at him. Again, however, such an outburst would not present obedience training in its best light. Whatever the reason for this particular approach may be, it seems to me that there are better ways and ways which do not louse up any dog. A competent instructor should be able to approach most dogs with a method that will not inflict any damage on the dog and a method that will not bring discredit to the sport.
©1973 J. J. Volhard