Monday, April 30, 2012
First, there is "behavior training." This is the kind of training in which a dog is taught to be a "good citizen." Typically this includes housetraining, good behavior around other people and dogs, reasonable leash manners and other small things that make a dog a much more pleasant companion. A well behaved dog attracts no special notice from the public (aside from amazing some with their good manners). This also includes rehabilitating a dog who has forgotten what being a dog is all about, who can't negotiate the human world without stress reactions and aggression or is so afraid of this alien place they hide.
"Activity or sport training" refers to training for specific activities -- this includes hunting, herding, Search and Rescue, lure coursing -- any of a myriad number of activities designed to showcase the abilities of the dog and his handler, particularly in activities a the dog has been bred to do. These days, such activity also includes "sports" such as frisbee, flyball, agility and so on. Sports type of training is basically obedience training on steroids as the dog is still being asked to do un-dog like things.
The basis for each type of training is who is learning who's language. With behavior training, it's mostly the human learning dog, and with obedience training it's mostly the dog learning human words and what to do when he hears them. At either end of the scale, the human has the biggest job. All the dog has to do is listen and do what the human asks for. It's the human's job to figure out how to communicate her wishes to the dog.
Training can't be effectively executed by half measures, otherwise you'll get an almost trained dog. For those of you who say, "That's OK, I don't need a perfect dog,' I respond that training isn't about perfection; it is about building a willingness in your dog to follow your instructions. If you ask your dog to sit but he doesn't, and you just stand there asking him to sit over and over again, he'll be learning from you that when you say "sit", you don't really mean it. This is why many dogs act perfectly well with their professional trainers and are less behaviorally consistent at home. The trainer is persistently following through with their commands while the owner is letting things slide at home.
Training isn't magic and there are no gimmicks, no matter what some books and websites may claim. You can't wave a magic wand and put no effort into following through with your dog's learning process and expect to have a well behaved dog. Dogs are influenced by their owner's lifestyle, their environment and what is commonly called self-education, which means they attain knowledge and use it always to their advantage - not always to your liking. It is of no relevance whether it was you who educated your dog or someone else before you.
In my experience, dog ownership is a little like a job: you need certain qualities in order to be good at it. The ideal characteristics include balance, composure, patience, persistence, ambition and initiative. You also need to be precise and consistent; have common sense and be logical; be organised; and have the ability and the desire to be in control. Finally, you need enough time to work with your dog, and you need to be affectionate and loving.
Patience is a gift. This is what gives you inner calm and composure. In training, the patient person is one who doesn't rush ahead, but takes the time to repeat, or even reconsider, his techniques, reverse or change procedure, intensify or revise a routine. A patient person may take a long time to achieve the desired outcome, but he always seems to get there in the end and be more knowledgeable because of his experience along the way.
A patient and composed person will be willing to look harder for the right approach to use with dogs whose temperaments lie at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Opposing your dog's behavior, battling him every step of the way, won't bring you any closer to victory. A patient person will learn how many repetitions his dog needs in order to learn something new and how intense the stimulation required. He will not set his dog up to fail but will encourage him and work with him to solve a task. A good dog owner plays for the same team as his dog. You're the captain, and he is your willing team mate.