As I went on my lunch time walk with the dogs I did a lot of thinking (walking is usually where I do my thinking). Last night we completed our first Good Citizen course and I couldn’t be prouder of all the dogs and puppies. And I realised it is for this feeling (that warm fuzzy one of pride) that I got into dog training (and indeed teaching). When a group of owners and their dogs turn up on week one, its totally new (usually) for everyone (both two legged and four legged alike). For the dogs, they get brought into a classroom with new smells, new sounds and new dogs which can be quite exciting indeed. So that’s why week one is mainly about asking very little of our dogs. They get to explore the room and we give them yummy Kongs to help them relax in their new setting. By week six, they are working around their classmates, passing tests and being rewarded lots for getting things right. Everything is dictated by the individual dog, progress is more important that the end goal. We’ve had one dog recently who, at the start of the course, could barely enter the building and by the end was able to take food from unknown hands and partake in the exercises. The progress he made in that time, through the brilliant work of his owner, was enormous – that’s what counts. I hasten to add he is a rescue with an unknown past, but I strongly suspect it was not kind past.
But actually, the dogs are just one small part of dog training the much bigger part is training the dog’s two legged counterparts! All of our dogs are capable of learning, indeed if we gave our dogs to trainers competing at the highest levels they would soon be working at that level too no doubt. But that’s not the point – as I mentioned in an earlier blog its about the journey with out dogs.
I will never forget being on a walk and seeing a training lesson taking place. Lots of lovely owners, with young puppies, out training on a Saturday morning. It was lovely to see… but then as I watched I saw some of the saddest things unfold. The owners, these lovely owners, who were possibly at the very beginning of their training journey, were being taught how to correctly yank their puppies leads to make them pay attention. I watched in horror – all of the owners were not wanting to do this, so weren’t really participating, only for them to be berated by the trainer and told how to yank correctly (using the owners puppies to demonstrate with!). What hit me about this was how this is potentially the next generation being taught these outdated, bullying tactics to train their dogs. There is a whole wealth of research out there that says we obey people who we see as a person of authority and if you are an owner, looking for a dog trainer and attending classes, chances are by default the trainer becomes the authority figure. Thus, you accept ‘they know better’ and carry out what they are telling you (even though it may not sit easy).
What we need with training in a paradigm shift – I harp on about it all the time but this is why education is so important. Within the training classes here, I explain why we teach dogs the way we do and I love how, over the training course, people have fun training. Its not a serious ‘do as you’re told, bad dog’ scenario but a fun one (with many comical moments!). We really should be having fun when we train our dogs. I swear they love it when we laugh (although that’s anecdotal).
So I suppose that is why I train – I literally love seeing the relationships and the confidence develop between owners and their dogs. Setting them off in the right direction for one of the most amazing and rewarding journeys you can have.