The Real Time Canine II

After spending 2 years writing the Real Time Canine, the adventure continues with The Real Time Canine II. Read along as I look for just the right puppy to continue the experience. After false starts with Tim and Jed, I am currently training young Tam, and Spot, which are both off to a strong start. Please visit the RTC II to read about training sessions as they occur.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's always the nut at the wheel

Photo credit Ann Croft

The title of this post refers to driving a car, but it applies equally as well to training a dog for any endeavor. Over the years that I have owned, raised, trained, worked and competed with border collie sheepdogs, I have heard every excuse in the book for poor performance. I know you'll be shocked and amazed to learn this, but I've even spouted a few myself. The longer I'm at it, though, the harder that gets, because at some point it became crystal clear to me that my dogs are only a reflection of my own abilities, such as they are.

"My dog can't lie down." "My dog won't lie down." "My dog won't come when I call it." "My dog barks all the time." "My dog chews up everything." "My dog is sulky when I work her and I'm going to breed her to dog of the moment. I just want a pup out her so bad." My dog grips off all the time. It's the way she's bred. It's in the line." "Whenever I crack open the door, my dog takes off and won't come back." "My dog reacts, resource guards, shows aggression, jumps on me, pulls on the leash, takes the wrong flanks, won't take an inside flank, won't balance, drive, walk up, pen, shed." "My dog won't listen and I've tried everything." "I have worked with this dog for the last year and a half and it is a mess." "My dog, my dog, my dog."

Uh-huh and how are your training skills? Really? Who taught you? And their skills? Not to mention; How often do you work with your dog?

So look, here's the thing; I don't mean to go all preachy on you, but...pssst, it's not the dog. There are a myriad of bad training techniques that I have seen over the years, but here's my personal top eleven (yes, 11!) in no particular order:

1. Use of a shock collar. Simply put, your dog may never be the same again. There is NO EXCUSE for a shock collar. No, I don't want to hear it! Not one, single, solitary, valid excuse. Whatever you think you're teaching with a shock collar, I can teach better without, and you can too.

2. Inappropriate correction. Say it once, mean it and match it up with the same intention your dog has while committing the indiscretion. In other words make it short and sharp. Do it once, make it meaningful and move on.

3. Inconsistency. If you don't let me do it this time, but next time it's OK, I'm going to be confused too, and I'm a lot smarter than your dog.

4. Holding a grudge. Dogs don't do this so they are completely unable to connect the grudge with the indiscretion. It confuses them and confused animals act odd. Correct the dog then let the anger, frustration, fill-in-the-blank-feeling run right out the top of your head, bottom of your feet, wherever, then return to your happy place. It takes practice to master this and I know it, because I did.

5. Failing to release pressure. If you correct the dog and go right on correcting it when it finally complies, the last thing the dog will ever do for you is comply, because it got no relief after it did. Dogs don't learn from correction, they learn from reward that comes after correction once they comply. And here's a hint for those of you with a treat dispenser clipped to your belt; The most effective form of reward is not a treat, it's the release of pressure.
The faster you release pressure, the faster the dog will learn.

6. Ranting at the dog. If you have to initially raise your voice to get the dog's attention, OK, but return to a soft tone as soon as possible. Someone who is always yelling is quickly ignored. Never give your dog opportunity to practice ignorance.

7. Asking a dog for too much too soon. You wouldn't ask a 4th grader to consider theoretical math, so don't expect your youngster to learn like a dog. Dogs are immature long after they look all grown up, so gauge your training to be age specific. Sheep dogs may show interest at 3 months, but it doesn't mean you should give them a go on stock. I heard that. "Aw it's all right for him to have a little fun." It's not about the dog. You will expect more and ask more of the wee one than you should. Trust me on this, you will. If he's keen at 3 months, he'll be more keen at 12 months, and better able to suffer the consequences of your mistakes. Just wait.

8. Fail to teach manners and respect at an early age. Dogs live in a hierarchy and the one at the top gets the most defferential treatment. Be the top dog. Manners and respect are the first lesson without which none others can be learned effectively. If you have glanced over or all together ignored this first crucial step, back up and begin again. It's more difficult for you and the dog the second time around, but IT IS NEVER TOO LATE.

9. Fail to kennel and crate your dog. Dogs need a home of their own where they feel safe and secure and are warm and dry. "My puppy chews up everything, digs holes in the lawn, escapes from the yard, chases cars, knocks the baby over, runs the fence barking all day, fill-in-the-blank, but I just can't bring myself to confine him." Then a year later; "What happened to your dog?" "Oh we had to get rid of him. He was just too wild for us." Crate and kennel them while you are training and until they mature and learn their way out of bad manners.

10. Expect your dog to train itself. It won't. You will have to put forth consistent, qualified and effective effort for some time to end up with a good dog. You may have to read, drive a distance, pay a trainer, take a lesson, use some of your precious time, ask questions, admit you are wrong or admit you don't know at all. You may have to be patient, learn new skills, keep trying and practice, practice, practice. If you are unable or unwilling to do some or all of these things, please, please, please get a cat!

11. Blame the dog. Pertaining to the dog, when you admit your own shortcomings and lack of knowledge, you can do something about it. When you blame the dog, all you can do is get a new dog...again and again and again. Every time something goes wrong with my dogs, I ask my self this question; "what am I doing to cause this?" I ask the same question every single time, because I know absolutely that it's always the nut at the wheel.

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