Rainy Days and Dog Trainers

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It’s been raining for two days so there haven’t been many dogs about.

I met four Shelties that were clicker trained although the owner did use negatives such as “no”. None of them “heeled” decently although two did not pull.

One of them, the second it was asked to do a trick, barked. Then it barked incessantly while it did every other trick it knew. It barked while we conversed.  Apparently it passed as a “therapy dog”. Huh?

I must be missing something because to me, incessant barking is a quickly corrected behaviour and not acceptable unless you enjoy being evicted. Another one of the Shelties kept growling at the Drama Prince who was laying quietly between my feet.

If a few tricks were supposed to impress me with clicker/food training–it didn’t. I would have been far more impressed if all the dogs laid down quietly while we talked about the missing dog park that was supposed to be completed two months ago, and wasn’t.

I finally found a trainer to help tune me up for working with the Drama Prince. No, she does not use food. Yes, she will help me work with a prong collar properly. She costs about 1/4 of most clicker trainer’s price and she’s been in business 23 years charging the same price. Since dog training often works on word-of-mouth particularly 10-20 years ago, that’s  impressive.

She also has experience with remote collars so I can exercise the Drama Prince because he will be able to run his husky heart out and still come back when called. She’s affordable, even for those on ODSP if they save up for a bit. And guess what? Dorothy was an absolutely lovely woman on the phone. Warm, welcoming, understanding of both my needs and the dog’s needs.

Dorothy understood that when I got the Drama Prince, he could not sit for more than a few seconds without falling over due to a broken leg that couldn’t be fixed. I had to incrementally train him until he was fully healthy because he couldn’t physically do many things in the beginning and I couldn’t risk yanking him around and hurting him. That presented training and behavioural challenges. When I brought him home, I was expecting to have a permanently handicapped dog 20lbs lighter than he is today.

While I am delighted that he’s now 55lbs of powerhouse sled dog–it means I must adapt to his present needs and find ways to exercise and train my friendly fellow in new ways so we can have a good life together.

If you’re in Toronto and want a sensible dog trainer, Dorothy is available at:  http://www.motherknowsbest.ca/

I’ve spoken with a LOT of clicker trainers on forums. They may, or may not be good with dogs but most I’ve met certainly are not good with owners or those that demand that they prove their assertions against the test of thousands of years of dog training.

And who is training the dog? If you can’t get the owner to comply at least 80% of the time, of what use is the instruction? Trainers [unless the dog is boarding with training] are not training the dogs, they’re training the owners.

I have YET to see a “no adverseness” clicker trained dog that recalls regardless of distractions. I have asked every food training owner in the park that I’ve found for more than 8 months. They might say “yes he comes when called” followed by “most of the time”.  “Most of the time” means “when s/he feels like it” not “all the time“. When asked, “when does the dog not come?” it is invariably answered with some kind of distraction the dog cannot manage or they never let it off lead because it exhibits some kind of poor behaviour such as herding other dogs and gets beat up.

In fact, Jeff from Solid K9 threw out a challenge with his own money at one point, betting his dogs against dogs trained by non-aversion methods and nobody walked away with his cash. It was Jeff, with his video that convinced me that there was no point in getting my spine ripped out daily, that I could polish up the Drama Prince with a prong and I wouldn’t be hurting him rather than both of us getting hurt because he’s so excited by other dogs.

Clicker training works for tricks. I know, I tried it. Worked great. No question. It can work for teaching standard obedience in your back yard or house if you can juggle sticky meat treats, a clicker, a bouncing dog and a leash–all at the same time with superb timing.

Where it all fell to crap was when the DP wanted to play with other dogs. When a dog is so excited he ignores real liver and kidney [mind you all the other park dogs were prepared to follow me unto death–two months later they’re still sniffing me with hopeful looks] there’s no further you can increase the food ante in the face of interesting distractions.

In simple terms, it can work for teaching the dog something new. It does not work for most owners when good behaviour counts the most–in the midst of distractions in places such as dog parks and beaches.

And my question: “Why, compared with old-fashioned obedience where you trained your dog to down/sit/stay/heel/come/stand with distractions in six weeks–does it take so bloody long to distraction-proof the dog, if you can do it at all?

We have to ask ourselves, why are sled dogs never trained with food? Why are protection dogs trained with prongs and check chains? Why are hunting dogs trained with remote collars?

Obviously, you can’t throw a fish cookie into a pack of dogs racing like maniacs when you holler “GEE!”  A protection dog cannot be distracted by a steak or toy when there’s a gun pointed at a policeman. Hunting dogs must return when called and sometimes, they’re half a mile away and out of sight of the handler. Working dogs must learn to stand, sit, heel and lay down quietly with a bunch of other uncontrolled dogs around, humans, animals, noise etc.

I have to ask, “Why are we training working dogs differently than pets?”

When humans take a math course the teacher doesn’t differentiate between those taking the course that will become physicists and those taking the course that will become cashiers. The math doesn’t change.

So why are we treating companion dogs one way and working dogs, another?

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  • Dogs Observed: 5
  • Dogs that did not pull on lead: 3
  • Dogs that recalled: 1 [and YAY it was a 4 year old RESCUE HUSKY! DOUBLE YAY!!]
  • Dogs that could pass a Good Canine Test: 1
    Dogs that could pass Basic Obedience: 0

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