How antiquated is your training program? Are you really trying to understand the dogs you work with? Are you a bit of an ogre? Take a good honest look and you may be surprised at what you find. I discovered that I was complacent, standing still, and unfair to my dogs!
I was blessed with a wonderful set of parents whose vocation was the raising, selling, boarding, training and showing of dogs. My earliest companions had long wet tongues and wagging tails, and I learned to pant long before I uttered my first word. My father had a tremendous understanding of dogs and I never saw one that didn’t both love and respect him. Consequently, as a very young child, I was introduced to obedience, which became and remains my most consuming interest. For a few years, my social life took precedence, but I have been actively training for well over twenty years. For most of those years my training remained static. I could feel that I was improving – learning more about handling personalities (dog and human) – but my methods did not change! They were good, they were proven, they worked for Dad and they were working for me. Let me interject that my methods were never brutal. (I am painfully compassionate toward animals and have a kennel full of permanent, non-paying residents, because they were homeless.) Our methods were man-oriented though, and left little room for consideration of the dog’s point of view. In other words, we commanded, demanded, reprimanded, and ultimately the dog obeyed because he had learned who was “boss.” There was little thought of real teamwork or companionship in producing a “Companion Dog.”
Two years ago I attended a five-day Instructor’s School. Actually, I considered myself a pretty good instructor and my students were placing most of the time; I wasn’t convinced that I really needed the school but it was good for the “record.” By the end of my first day I had begun to question my ability to conduct a class. For the entire week, I was always on the wrong foot, hopelessly tangled up in six feet of leash and wondering how I’d managed to live so long, while being so stupid. I went home, unscrambled my thoughts, picked up my shattered ego, read my notes and became a much better handler and instructor than in the days B.C. (before the clinic) – but not nearly as good as I’d thought myself to be. I had honestly considered myself an honest and patient trainer, until that day at the clinic when my dog defied my order to drop. She cowered and turned her head away from me. I stood alone on the floor with all eyes watching. My next command was severe (to put it mildly and my face “could have stopped a clock.” I was embarrassed, but had to laugh at the description of me. When I tried again, still smiling, my dog dropped on the spot. Suddenly, failing an exercise was not so important, but failing my dog was. I had just never stopped to think about it before. Right then and there my dog and I learned that the most important word in our mutual vocabulary was NOT “no”, it was “g-o-o-o-od.” All those years I had not learned a thing about real communication – I had been a dictator. Upon my return to classes, we began to try to think from the dog’s viewpoint and to teach from his level. I still hang on to some of the old methods, but some ideas that I was not ready to accept two years ago, seemed right to me this time and have now been put into our program. The change in methods is gradual – but there is a decided change in attitude. Most of all, I have learned to backtrack in my training, instead of bellowing at a dog that simply does not understand.
Thank God for the people who go to bat for our dogs and make us realize what a mutually rewarding experience obedience training can and should be. Each of us should periodically examine our own training programs to be sure we are not guilty of standing still. After all, this is what NADOI is all about – improved methods of training and methods that keep the best interest of the dog, the handler, and the fancy in mind.
©1972 R. R. Oharek