Many clubs, as well as individuals, regularly change training methods and approaches for reasons ranging from improving trial performance to being more humane to the dog. However, when a sudden change in approach is made, often the results are not always what we had hoped for. One reason for this can be a lack of consistency from what the dog has been used to.
The dog is a pack animal and as such is either a leader or a follower. Upon entering the human pack, the same is true. If the dog is a follower, he looks for consistency and direction from the owner as a positive, leader figure. If he is a leader, he will resist any effort by the owner to overtake his position as pack leader. In both cases, the dog is looking for a consistent behavior from the owner. The follower looks for leadership, and the leader looks for a passive follower response from the owner.
While suggesting a slow change from one training method to another, there will occur situations when an abrupt change is needed particularly when working with a dog who views himself as pack leader in order to establish the owner in this position. This is a dog that has usually gotten his way and received little, if any, discipline. This dog is often brought to class because the owners have had it with him.
During training the dog becomes adjusted to a certain consistency and attitude on the part of the handler toward training. Each training approach and exercise is based on a foundation upon which one builds to achieve the final product. If the approach is changed and the foundation work for that procedure has not been reviewed, the dog is faced with an unfamiliar approach and probably a change in attitude from the handler as well. The result is usually regression and disgust with the new approach.
Some dogs, as well as some handlers, adjust to the change with no problems
at all. However, it is best if the entire approach is evaluated with the foundation work well understood so that the dogs can be worked into the new approach with a minimum of difficulty. The handler should gradually increase the amount of positive or negative reinforcement to be used so that the dog is not faced with a sudden change. Above all the handler should understand what each step involves in a new training procedure,
the goals for that step, and the behaviors that indicate the dog is learning so they can be properly rewarded.
©1981 W.H. Morrison, III