Q. Lloyd, would you have any thoughts on how much force to use in training a dog?
A. This is a question which invariably comes up and to which you will not get an answer satisfactory to everyone. I feel that there is no general answer or blueprint which everybody can follow. It really depends on your attitude towards dogs and people and whether you actually like dogs or people or are in obedience in order to dominate and dictate. There is, however, a rule of thumb that I follow which is that the amount of force you use should be related to the dog you are dealing with. Let me give you a specific example. I was kneeling next to a German Shepherd getting ready to teach the dog the sit exercise when the dog lunged straight at my face ready to tear me apart. I hit him right between the eyes with my fist, knocking him out. When the dog came to I was still kneeling at its side calming it down and assuring it that I was really trying to be his friend. The dog shook himself, licked me on the cheek and the incident was forgotten. As I discovered afterwards, it was not the dog’s fault at all for the owner had neglected to tell me that the dog had apparently previously been mistreated and had a violent dislike of men, but in that instance I could not do anything else. By the same token, you would not use the same treatment on a small Sheltie that is trying to bite you. Whatever force you are using, you should ask yourself, is it absolutely necessary to get the desired response and this will always depend on the specific circumstances involved.
Q. What about this business of hitting a dog? Do you have any thoughts on that?
A. I don’t want to answer a question with another question, but by “hitting a dog” do you mean with an object or with your hand or fist? I personally have never hit a dog with an object under any circumstances. When I felt a particular dog needed a severe reprimand I have relied upon the use of my hand, should that become necessary. I am trained in Judo, very agile and very quick. I realize, of course, that not everyone is endowed with these attributes. In a case where I felt that the owner could not control the dog in any other manner, I probably would not hesitate to recommend a dowel or similar object as an aid to the owner. I have never had to resort to this even though I seem to be getting most of the problem dogs in this area.
Q. Can you single out what you consider to be the biggest problem in dog training?
A. Rather than talk about a specific problem here, let me describe the type of dog which I consider the biggest problem and that is the sharp-shy dog. With the truly aggressive dog, you can’t really make a mistake – you must meet force with force until the dog respects your ability and trusts your good judgment to control it. After that, you can treat him like a piece of wet Kleenex without any force whatsoever. But with the sharp-shy dog, you must convince the dog that the world at large is a nice place to live in, and you must do it without any kind of force whatsoever. You must use methods that cause the dog to want to come out of its shell, under its own volition, and without giving the appearance that you have compelled him to do so. It has to come from within the dog. You are trying to instill confidence in the dog which obviously cannot be done by force.
Q. Have you ever had a problem that you were unable to solve?
A. Here again we are dealing with a question of definition. – what do you consider an unsolvable problem? I recall three instances in which I recommended that the dog be put down and all three of them were fear biters. An autopsy on one disclosed a brain tumor. The other two were not autopsied. I don’t think these dogs could have been helped, so in that sense I considered them unsolvable problems.
Q. What do you do when you feel you have a problem that you cannot solve with your experience to date?
A. One example and a rather recent one comes to mind. I train on an asphalt parking lot and I had a number of Great Danes in the class who seemed to have an inordinate amount of difficulty with the down exercise. As a matter of fact, they refused any and all efforts to get them into the down position. Fortunately, the next day there was a local dog show and I mentioned this to some Great Dane breeders and was informed that most Great Danes will not readily accept the down position on a rough surface be- cause of the tremendous weight of the dog on their elbows with the protection of only a very short coat. During the next class I told the owners with the Great Danes to use the grass strip adjacent to the parking lot to teach the dog the down and have had no problem since. If I have a problem that I feel I cannot solve, I get help. I also try to learn as much as possible about breed characteristics and trainability. I watch conformation handling at dog shows and talk to breed people about their breed to help me in being able to solve a training problem with which I may be confronted.
Q. In your opinion, do you feel that training classes overly emphasize title work as opposed to solving a pet’s problem?
A. That happens to be another area about which I feel very strongly. I think that the primary function of the instructor is to solve the owner’s problem, that is, cure whatever made him come to our class in the first place. I realize that it is easier to concentrate on those owners that are catching on quickly and look like they have the aptitude and desire to show their dogs. But this can come later. I feel that in many courses there is too much emphasis on title work at the expense of solving problems. In the Basic Course, I de- emphasize title work and concentrate on the everyday problems of the pet living with his family. That is not to say that I do not teach title work, nor do I discourage it; but the public, at least initially, does not come to me for that end purpose.
Q. Lloyd, we are going to have to wrap this up; any final comment?
A. Jack, let me conclude on this note – as an instructor you must recognize that no two dogs are alike. In teaching the owner how to train his pet you should work from the bottom up. By that I mean, try an approach that initially relies exclusively on showing the dog what you want him to do. Use patience and a great deal of good will and try to look at the training from the dog’s point of view. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a dog should be taught by means of a severe correction. To be sure, the severe correction has its place – when needed. But, “when needed” implies that you have honestly tried to get the desired response by means of gentle persuasion first. Give the dog a break, lest you are breaking his spirit.