A few Saturdays ago Lloyd Aguero and I were mulling over ideas for this column at a mutual friend’s house over some schnapps and beer when someone suggested “why don’t you try a NADOI member profile? You can use the interview technique and bring out attitudes toward training and other interesting facets.” “Great idea,” I said. “Lloyd can be the interviewee and I will be the interviewer.”
Lloyd Aguero has been in obedience almost 20 years, 14 of which as an instructor, and has been a member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors for four years. He has owned and trained two breeds, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers. This is how it went:
Q. Lloyd, what do you consider to be the most important quality of a good obedience instructor?
A. Well, Jack, I think at the outset we must recognize that instructing involves far more than a knowledge of training, dogs. Sometimes I feel that my knowledge about obedience training is secondary to what I have to know as an instructor. Perhaps the single most important quality necessary to be a good instructor is understanding people, almost like a sociologist or a psychiatrist. You must be able to analyze a person’s problem as it relates to his pet and be able to cope with it. For example, we know that owners transmit their fears and anxieties to their pets. The dog can sense these and the leash transmits them like a telephone cord. I remember the case of an owner with a German Shepherd who had to interrupt the training course in order to undergo surgery. When he came back, the dog’s behavior deteriorated steadily to the point of being uncontrollable and super-aggressive toward other dogs. In talking to the owner I learned he almost did not recover from this surgery, that he had to have another operation and that he was in a state of mental turmoil about his condition because he did not know whether he was going to make it or not. In addition, the operation had physically weakened him to such an extent that he was unable to control his dog. It became a vicious circle – as his confidence lessened the more rambunctious the dog became. It was quite obvious that his anxiety was the cause of the dog’s unruly behavior and that before he could control his dog I had to change the owner’s frame of mind as it related to his dog. After I had explained all this to the owner, his attitude toward his dog changed and so did the control problem. Obviously, I could not allay his fears concerning his pending sur- gery. I could, however, explain to him the cause of his difficulties with his dog and once he knew that he was able to deal with it.
This is just one example of recognizing the fact that the so-called problem dog may not be a problem dog after all because the “problem” may be caused by something entirely other than the dog himself. Another example is the owner who subconsciously tightens up on the leash whenever another dog or person is approaching which can have the effect of making the dog aggressive and possibly a biter. The good instructor can recognize and evaluate the owner’s personal weakness and will try to counter it in a positive manner. The first step, however, is to explain to the owner that it is his acts or thoughts which are responsible for the dog’s problem. For these reasons, I feel that the good instructor is probably more psychiatrist than anything else.
Q. What are your views about different training methods?
A. We read a great deal about different methods and their effectiveness – – why they should be used or why they should not be used. This is a question about which I feel rather strongly because I believe that much of today’s training is far too harsh and far too physical. Many of these methods are holdovers from 10 and 20 years ago coupled with a lack of desire on the instructor’s part to spend his own time and money to educate himself for the purpose of improving his methods. Let me make this analogy:
If you were pregnant, would you go to an obstetrician who has not updated the methods he used 20 years ago or would you go to the one who has constantly improved himself by keeping up on the latest methods? The answer is obvious. The reason many people do not attend for example an instructor’s school for a full week is because they have been around obedience for 20 years or more and believe there is nothing new to learn. Personally, I feel that we never cease to learn better ways of teaching the public how to understand and control their pets.
To get back to your specific question, I prefer the training method that causes the dog to react in the manner desired by the least physical means and that appeals to the natural capabilities of the dog to respond to the owner’ s requirements.
Q. Lloyd, you mentioned training methods that you consider too harsh and too physical. Can you be more specific?
A. I think I can. When I started in obedience with my first dog, I was taught that to train the dog to heel you make a military about turn at the same time letting the dog go to the end of the 6-foot lead and then jerk as hard as you can. I consider that method too harsh and too physical. Fortunately, by the time I started training my second dog I knew better. The curious thing is, and many people don’t recognize this, that in most cases physical methods are not only not necessary but are also not as effective as less physical methods. My first dog was afraid of heeling and he looked it. My second dog, who had been taught to heel the proper way, loved the exercise and consequently did much better on it. The other curious thing is that many people don’t realize that their training methods are too physical perhaps because they just don’t know that it is possible to teach a dog by means of less forceful methods. Instructors tend to place too great a reliance on the correction without having given the dog the chance to learn without the use of the correction. This is what I mean by using the least physical means necessary to get the desired response.