All instructors stress the importance of being consistent when training a dog. This is emphasized in class, but the instructor has no way of being on top of his students when they are not in class. Many of the problems which arise are those we are not really conscious of having created. For example, a student wants his dog to be under control especially at home. He has had success teaching the down with a gentle, but firm, approach. The dog becomes reliable and all of a sudden he hears this command in a loud, angry voice as he jumps up to greet his owner, or, as guests come in the house, gets up on the couch. The down is being used as a form of punishment. No wonder the dog begins to dislike the down and hesitates on the drop on recall. If the dog does view the down as punishment, the drop on recall can be especially difficult. The dog’s response to punishment, an assertion of dominance, is to show deference (respect) for the leader (owner). In order to do so he tries to get closer to his owner and as a result creeps.
Another example is the stay. How many times have we gone from one room to another and told our dog to “Stay” as we open the door only to close it behind us and go on about our work? When we do return, is the dog praised for having stayed or corrected for having moved? Students are taught that “Stay” means don’t move, yet at home “Stay” is used to momentarily keep our dogs out of our way. We have found it useful to substitute “Wait” in these situations.
While they may seem minor, the interaction between handler and dog in non- training situations needs to be examined if the handler is having problems with reliability and consistency. It may well be that our dogs are learning what they don’t need to do faster than what we want them to do.
©1979 W.H. Morrison, III