On January 15, 1973, Chapter 3, of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors conducted a one-day seminar in Manassas, Virginia, on the Basic Course. Following is the first part of a condensed version of one of the presentations entitled NEW APPROACHES AND TECHNIQUES IN DOG TRAINING AND EVALUATING THEIR EFFECTIVENESS.
When I finished high school (more years ago than I care to remember), I was impressed, as any recent high school graduate, that I was really educated. I am sure I was more knowledgeable than an infant, but I soon realized that I was ignorant when compared to older people who had more experience than I. Then, during my first office job, I noticed with interest a little sign the President of the company had on his desk. It said SO LONG AS YOU ARE GREEN, YOU GROW: WHEN YOU GET RIPE, YOU GET ROTTEN. This little axiom is particularly appropriate for obedience instructors. We have all met the instructor who thinks he knows it all. But the older, more experienced instructor realizes that the MORE ONE LEARNS, THE MORE THERE IS TO LEARN. By meeting today, all of us are saying that we are still green and want to grow. We want to learn more about dog training and we want to share experiences in our hobby.
I work for a company with an engineering department and for every successful development there have been many experiments in designs and techniques on the way to success. And success in our company, as in any business, is the sale of a good product or service. In dog training, we have some people who might be called chief engineers. These are the Pearsalls, the Stricklands, the Koehlers, the Saunders, etc. We could say that every instructor is an engineer working out the details of programs outlined by the chief engineers, for success or failure. Perhaps my exposure to a research and development organization for 13 years has sharpened my mind to the scientific approaches which must be used to develop new and superior products. But what is a “scientific approach?” Perhaps the dictionary can help which defines science as: “(1) Any department of knowledge in which the results of investigation have been logically arranged; (2) Knowledge of facts . . . gained and verified by exact observation, organized experiment and orderly thinking; (3) An orderly presentation of facts, reasonings, doctrines, and beliefs concerning some subject or group of subjects; (4) Expertness, skill, or proficiency resulting from knowledge.” With this definition in mind, let me say that all obedience instructors are scientists, that is, all instructors should be scientists. An instructor who is not using a scientific approach to training is getting rotten in his training. Everything is a changing process and we must keep up to date – sometimes if only to know WHAT NOT TO DO. How could the problem be eliminated or avoided? These questions kept haunting me. No instructor has successfully passed on to me his secret of getting dogs off lead. I have had to devise my own system for those dogs that are aware of the lead being re- moved. I had a dog which had this problem, and I used every gimmick in the book: the fishing line, the drop lead, the lead without the snap in it, etc., but these were tried as solutions to a problem that had been in existence for a long time. How could I have avoided the problem in the first place? That was what I wanted to know as an instructor. I decided that I should try never to let the dog or owner become dependent on the lead. From the first session, the lead was put over the owner’s shoulders and he was told that the object was to keep his left hand off the lead as much as possible. By encouraging the handler to walk fast and praise his dog when the dog was in the correct heel position, I found that I was able to start some of the dogs with off-lead work after 5 weeks. The object was to reduce if not eliminate the OWNERS’ and the DOGS’ dependence on the lead from the very start. For too many the lead is like Linus’ blanket which later on may be difficult to abandon.
Of course, I was anxious to evaluate the success of this method. Only 2 of the 5 dogs on which I had tried this continued into the Novice Class where I could determine if the early off-lead work paid off. One of the 2 dogs had to drop out of the class for personal reasons. This left me with only one dog on which to base an opinion. This was a Westie, 2 years old, and thought to be a problem dog by his owner. After 16 weeks of training, this dog and handler entered a trial and earned a leg on the CD with a credible score. To be sure, this cannot be considered a scientific conclusion; it did, however, encourage me to try the technique in another class. Dogs from this class are now training in Novice classes and I will be watching their progress to determine the success of using the earlier offlead work as a foundation for their training.
©1973 O. S. Point