It is always interesting to listen in on or become involved in a discussion on training equipment. Be it chain, nylon, leather, pronged or pinch, everyone has a preference as to collars. The same is true for leads, dumbbells, articles, etc. These are tools of the trade much as saws, rackets, bats, gloves and clubs represent tools of other trades. The trick is in knowing how to get the most out of these tools.
A friend told me a story about a gentleman who plays golf. He has just purchased a new driver and was trying it out at the driving range. Each swing of the club sent the ball hooking into the woods. As the somewhat disgruntled golfer complained about his new club, his friend took the club and drove several balls straight down the fairway. He looked at the club, handed it back to its owner saying, “It’s not the club”.
This simple moral can be applied to dog training. Regardless of how good or poor the equipment, without the knowledge of how to use it correctly, the results of the use of that equipment will be somewhat less than expected. To some extent, this is true of the dog. In the wrong hands, a well-trained dog will not work well. Some of the tools used these days, in particular food, have come under criticism. A rationale for not using them is that they cannot be used in the ring. What a lame excuse. The lead is used in only one exercise of the three obedience classes and accounts of only 20% of the points in the novice class, yet we still train with it. Chutes, extended leads, tie down boards, and throw chains are not allowed in the ring but we have learned how to use them so that the dog (handler?) doesn’t rely on them. If food or any other training tool is a problem for a handler, it just may be he does not know how to use it properly.
Teaching an animal (including man) to respond to a stimulus is based on very well defined rules of conditioning (or whatever name you want to put on it). An understanding of these rules and how to use them properly will result in a training approach which will be successful. Problems arise when the rules are not well understood or are used in inappropriate situations. It is imperative that the instructor understands these rules and their application when teaching training classes. Many people want an A-B-C approach to training, which does not require them to think. Many could care less how the training steps are arrived at. That’s fine and it can reduce the amount of explanation needed in teaching class. If, however, the explanation can be incorporated in an informative, palatable manner, the hander is well on his way to understanding the principles of conditioning (training) and solving training problems on his own thus making the best use of the training tools at his disposal.
©1987 W. Herbert Morrison, III