Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Very Bad Habit of Pooch Comparison

It's a very bad idea to compare the way your pooch behaves to the way other people's pooches (say that 10 times) behave.  It could turn out (and probably will), that you really don't know what your talking about.

I've spent a long time trying to learn how to train dogs.  I'm a city girl who never grew up around animals and so it doesn't come naturally for me.  I've always been that shy kind of person who tends to think other people are really better at things (any thing) than I am.  My personality quirks have not been my friend when it comes to dog training.  Thankfully, God has given me enough tries that I'm starting to get it.  It's kind of like the movie 'Ground Hog Day', if you try over and over again, eventually, you might get it right.

McKenzie at the Pups in the Park with a Pit Bull who is up for adoption.  The pit was a sweet and gentle dog.  Mine wanted to play to rough, so we stopped the play.

I've done loads of research (I am rather an education fanatic) on how to go about training.  I've done the typical going to class with a bunch of other people and dogs in a very small space and walking around in circles.  I've listened to all the people I've met who have/had seemingly well behaved dogs.  I've bought the latest and greatest gadgets for dog training -- some of them featured on this blog.  I joined a dog club* (best thing I've ever done because I can watch and learn from excellent trainers with their dogs and I can watch and learn what not to do from some very bad trainers) and read a multitude of books to educate myself.  I am also now an avid reader of blogs written by professional dog trainers**.  And I've hired dog trainers to come to my house to help me with what I'm doing wrong.  Put all this experience together and you come up with a very mixed bag of .... Well.  A  very mixed bag.  Here's how I'm putting it together.

McKenzie running with the Bike Tow Leash...(see side bar)

There are some universal ways to teach your dog how to do 'tricks'.  Tricks are things like HEEL, SIT, DOWN, STAY, etc.  You can teach these tricks on a variety of differing levels from the very beginning stage of 'Yay!  Pooches' butt hit the floor the first time I asked!' to the well practiced dog who can sit for an eternity while their owner goes into a restaurant and orders lunch.  These types of behaviors take practice and patience, and perhaps a bit of trust and respect.  But on some level, anyone can teach tricks.

Pups in the Park agility.   I kept her on the leash because, at one point, she bolted from the ring to go play with the other dogs.  Focus has never been 'her thing'.

On the other hand,  there are dogs who are gentle, kind, deliberate, calm and well mannered....and there are dogs who aren't.  This type of training is different.  This  type of training requires finesse on the handler's part and genetics on the dog's part.  Yes.  I said genetics.   I mean both in breed specific genetics and simple personality genetics.  I mean, everyone knows, if you want to have the world champion in Agility, train a Border Collie.  Don't be thinking you can have a Blood Hound be the best agility dog in the trial.  IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN!  If you want the most gentle dog, don't be getting a Boxer.  Does this mean that Blood Hounds can't do agility?  Heck NO!  Does it mean that Boxers can't be gentle?  No, again.  All it means is that you have to know how to train.  You also have to pick the dog with the personality you're looking for.  Some Boxers are naturally more gentle than other Boxers.  And Blood Hounds will never be the fastest dog at the agility trial.  Sorry to burst your bubble.

So how does one learn how to train a dog?  It's like I said.  Ground Hog Day!  You keep trying and trying until one day, you might get lucky and get it right.  Every dog's personality takes a different kind of training.  Bull headed dogs (we call them 'hard' dogs) take harder or tougher training using harsher tones in your voice and stronger corrections than 'soft' dogs.  I've seen some dogs so 'soft' that they literally shut down when they get a harsh look from the eyes of their beloved owner.  Hard dogs, like Lord Malcolm, do not understand looks.  They don't understand soft words.  They don't understand a soft correction.  I could hit Malcolm in the side of the head with a brick (not that I would ever do that) and I think he would shake it off and say "Gee, Mom.  That's a tough game, but when these stars go away, I want to play again."

I guess that what I'm trying to say in my usual round about way, is that every dog is different.  It has never served me well to compare the way my dogs behave to the way some other dog behaves.  I'm beginning to see that either that handler and dog has 'practiced that trick for a really long time' or they have a breed that displays a particular behavior better than my breed or their dog's personality is way different than the personality of my dog.  I can certainly make a difference by practicing a behavior more often.  By giving better and more consistent rewards and by recognizing the personality traits of that dog and teach in the language that they can deal with.  Just because someone else's dog seem well behaved, doesn't mean it is that way all the time, either.  I can't tell you how often people have walked by me and said things like, "Now that's how a dog is supposed to behave," or "There's a person who know how to handle a dog," or "Look at that dog, (Fido)!  Why can't you act like that?"  I've heard that almost as often as I've seen people quickly pick up their wee dog and run for safety.  I've been so embarrassed at my dog's behavior that I couldn't bring myself to talk to people.  I've also been so proud of my dog's behavior that I couldn't stop talking about them.  It depends on the barometric pressure of the day, I guess.   One never knows...except that one has to always remain aware.  You have to know how to read the body language, not only of your dog, but of other's dogs.  You have to be patient.  You have to be determined.  You have to keep learning.  You have to keep trying.  You have to accept that sometimes you get a dog that you just didn't figure on.  But that's NO reason to give up or give the problem to someone else (like a rescue).  That's your challenge to get with it and figure out a way to teach the behavior you'd like to see.

*  The dog club offers a variety of classes to teach dog tricks.  The problem is that they teach to a 'test', the dog show/trial.  Who ever is teaching the class is a volunteer who has trained dogs for years, but only their dogs.  They may or may not be a good teacher for you or your type of dog.
The great thing about the dog club is that you can hang out and listen and watch other people with their dogs, whether they teach or not.  You can learn from listening and watching everyone.

** Professional  dog blogs are great resources and most of them offer good suggestions.  Be careful of those that teach 'positive training' only.  If a dog never gets a correction, how can he/she know you really mean it?

No comments: