One of the most important rules in obedience and the hardest to follow is: NEVER LOSE YOUR TEMPER! Your dog can spot it immediately if you really mean business or if you have lost control of yourself. The former, he respects. The latter will cause utter confusion. The dog will most likely balk the next time you begin the exercise you were working on when you lost your temper. After all, our dogs look to us for leadership. I learned the hard way that it means rebuilding your dog’s confidence in you all over again. You say, “But he makes me so mad!” – “He knows what I want.” – “He is deliberately disobeying.” – “It is so hard for me not to lose my cool.” So who said obedience was easy? If you aren’t feeling well, or you just had an argument with your spouse, or a calling down by your boss, DON’T TAKE IT OUT ON YOUR DOG! It isn’t his fault. Put your training off until you are in control of yourself.
Think of the damage you could do by striking your dog with the dumbbell or forcing it against his teeth or using the lead in a fury and possibly causing an eye injury. I certainly hope no one would kick their dog while in a fit of anger. The physical danger is certainly a good enough reason not to lose your temper, but it is only one side of it. Do you realize how much you will have regressed in your training? And yet the worst part of all is the destruction of the bond between you and your dog. You have been working as mutual friends and as a team. To suddenly turn on your dog will not only cause confusion but mistrust as well. This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in a hard correction or punishment when it is needed. Just be sure you are in command of your emotions when you apply either one, and only apply it when needed.
Correction and punishment are not the same thing. Punishment is given in serious matters where the possibility of danger must be averted. It must be given at the time the grievance is being committed and not hours after you come home and find out the dog attacked the neighbor’s cat or tore up some furniture. One good hard punishment is us- ually most effective. Don’t keep nagging your dog all through the next day about “what a bad boy you’ve been.” You can’t expect the dog to remember why you are angry hours after his misdeed took place. You are dealing with an animal and he doesn’t have a human memory that works exactly like ours. Correction can be given in various degrees as the situation demands. I think many of us are guilty of forgetting that correction should always be followed by immediate praise. Correcting a dog doesn’t mean hitting him. This is a punishment. A correction means just that – TO CORRECT. The dictionary says correction means the act of changing something to make it right. The handler has the responsibility of showing the right way to do something and the obligation to praise the dog for being in the right position. If you start a new job or a new creative project that you never did before, or are unsure of, don’t you feel encouraged when your foreman or instructor says, “That’s right.” – “Now you’ve got it.” We all need encouragement for an undertaking or a boost in a difficult one. Our dogs are the same. PRAISE TAKES THE STING OUT OF CORRECTION.
I’ve heard all this before, you say? WELL, WHAT DID YOU DO ABOUT IT? ? ? What do you as a handler do with the bits of information your instructor has given you? Do you just take everything on blind faith, try the suggestion for a while and then ask for another solution if the first one doesn’t work out? Do you expect your instructor or an expert’s training book to answer all your questions? Your instructor comes to class well prepared to pass along the best proven training methods to you. An instructor is pleased when a student tries to follow his advice. But that is only half of what he is trying to accomplish with you. When an instructor can stimulate a pupil to think on his or her own and question the “whys” of his methods, he knows you are beginning to grow in your training process. Think about why you are using a certain method with your dog. There may be a fresh approach that you may have that will get the same idea across a little easier. After all, who knows your dog better than you.
A good instructor realizes that he or she can learn from a novice handler as well as an experienced trainer. Everyone has some good ideas. This is one of the fascinating facets of obedience work. There is always something to be learned. How about you? What do you think? When a handler tells me about something he or she has tried at home with their dog and did I mind that they tried it, I am tickled to death that he or she did some thinking on their own. We discuss the merits or disadvantages of their method. This encourages the handler to think a little farther. We as instructors should think about building new personnel for our club’s training staff and be on the lookout for new, possible talent. Not every good handler can become an effective instructor, but we should always be ready to help those who have instructing possibilities. Don’t be afraid of a little competition. The new upcoming talent helps keep the established instructors on their toes. This is healthy for the sport. To continue to learn and grow presents a great challenge. I’m willing. How about you?
Handlers, what do you think about your club’s training staff? Do they just do an adequate job or are they always on the lookout for training helps? Do they have regular instructors meetings where problems can be tossed out and discussed? Are they overworked? If you aren’t satisfied, why don’t you offer some of your time? Most instructors find that they spend so much time trying to help others solve their training problems that they have very little time or patience left for their own dogs. Anyone who devotes their time and energy to helping others deserves a break. Obedience is a sport that should satisfy all the participants. Let’s all work together to bring satisfaction to all those connected with the obedience world.
©1973 H. O’Donohoe