What Do I Train? Dogs, Of Course!

I borrowed this from my wonderful training partner, Jen Rainey of Vom Haus Huro German Shepherds.  I really love what she had to say in it.

The question that I am most often asked is “what kind if training do you do?” to which I typically respond “dog”. I’m not being sarcastic when I give that answer (o.k. so maybe I am to an extent. lol) but I don’t believe that I subscribe to any “one” kind fo training, but more of a mish mash melting pot of methods. The way I train is my own. It’s my baby. Like any baby it is ever growing, always changing and occassionally full of surprises, both good and bad. My training theories and methods have evolved from the way way that I view dogs. I don’t think that any dog is exactly the same as another and I think that a “cookie cutter” approach to training is what leads so many dogs and their owners down a road that they would have otherwise been able to avoid.

 As humans we insist upon our individuality and our ability to be ourselves. Our own entity. Yet that very right that we so vehemently defend for ourselves is often the very first thing we strip from our dogs. Each and every dog has it’s own personality, its own strengths and weaknesses and its own potential and limitations. I believe that when we begin to work with a dog we have the choice to either try and force that dog into the predetermined mold that we envisioned for it or we can evaluate the dog for who and what it is and essentially exploit that dogs strengths to hide or reduce its weaknesses. Lying to ourselves about who or what our dogs are or about who or what we are as their trainers will only diminish the working relationship that we share with them as well as severely effect the success of our training efforts.

Once we can be honest with our dogs and ourselves we are actually in a much better position to not only experience training advancements but to also meet and surpass our original training goals. At this point I begin to focus on the two parts of training that I think promote the best results: remove the gray and be fair. I’m going to address both of this points in further detail in the next two paragraphs. If you are bored now, leave, because it’s only going to get worse. lol Anyone that knows me knows 2 things about me and training. Number one is that I win at obediene. A lot. I don’t say that to boast or brag, I say it simply as a fact. I win much more often than I don’t.  I don’t win because I’m a great trainer or even a good trainier. I win because I am fair and my dogs give their hearts every time we step onto the field because they appreciate and have confidence in that fact. Number two is that I am fiercely loyal to my training theory beause it allows me to be fair, to let the dog shine for what it is and above all, to let us enjoy the trip, the training and the victories.

Removing the gray sounds easy. Training should, after all, be black and white but it is absolutely astounding what we can do to complicate it. Sit means sit. Sounds easy enough. Sounds perfectly black and white. That’s because it is. Where we get the “gray” is when we tell our dogs “sit” and the dog instead smells the ground, looks at another dog, dances around and smiles or jumps on us. When we laugh and say “oh, ground must smell good” or “no, now is not the time for hugsies super sweetie baby doggy” or “oh, you want some attention, don’t you?” we create the gray. If you allow a behavior you agree with it and every time the dog attempts something other than sit and we reward it either by laughing it off or explaining it away, we are not doing them or ourselves any favors. We are only complicating matters and creating more gray in our black and white world. I prefer, instead to use marker words and rewards. “Yesssss!” and a reward of food or a toy for good, “nein” and a witholding of the reward for no. Once the dog knows and understands all commands then a negative reinforcer such as a collar pop will be added to the “no” to create consequence for ignored commands.

Now we come to the fairness portion, which, fortunately for me, the dogs and the sake of brevity, matches up very well with removing the gray. It is unfair of me to expect the dog to reason out that if I say sit at training, it means sit but at home it means ‘walk around for 5 more minutes and then lay over there’. It is unfair of me to only mean what I say on the trial field and it is unfair of me to rely on the use of threats and correction colllars or other training tools to bully my dog into listening while on the training field only to undo all of that by trying to reason my dog into obedience at all other times. I’m not saying I do any of these things (in fact I try not very hard not to. lol) but sadly I have seen it all done as people try to make thir way down the path of training. My dogs perform only because they know that compliance will, at all times and in all situations, result in positive things. Treats, toys, hugs, pets, whatever it takes to make that dog know that that one simple act of obedience was enough to make me the proudest owner on that field. 

My dogs are by no means robots that listen 24/7/365. They do have their off days and they also have their moments of brilliance. What I’ve found is that through removing the gray and being consistantly fair, I’ve been able to increase those brilliant moments and decrease the off days. Anytime you are rewarded for one behavior and discouraged for another it makes it easier to continue to choose the correct behavior and forget about the bad. They have joy in their work and their jobs because it has always been a source of excitement and praise and they have confidence in their work because they know they can count on me to be fair. I am not willing to accept radicial changes to my theory because I will jealously guard the resulting work ethocs that they bring to the table. My methodoloy can and will change because any time I can find a way to further narrow the gray I can and will take advantage of that, provided that that method also is grounded in fairness. I’d rather retire a dog untitled than force it joylessly into work that it has no interest or natural ability for. Right or wring it is where I stand.

So that’s my training in a nutshell. I train dogs. I train them fairly, consistantly and concisely. I train not for results, but for the joy of the work and the sake of the dog. Love it or hate it it’s the only way I can be. I won’t abuse a dog for a title. I won’t take a shortcut to get fast results. I will give that dog every advantage. I wil take every pain to help that dog understand not only the commands that we use but also the joy that can be found in following them. I’ve said many times that I have never met a person with a dog problem but I have met many a dog with a person problem. I say it because I mean it. As humans we seem to think the dog should be the smarter half of the team and reason through OUR thought processes. While it may not be true, I prefer to at least THINK that I am smarter than my dogs, and therefore present things to them in a way that they understand. Easily, effectively and happily.

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