Recently I attended a dog walk with many other people. A comment was made, that people would not want their dog to be like mine, being a competition obedience dog.
This made me think. First and foremost, our dogs are our companions, our pets. As such I believe they need to be a well-mannered easy to live with dog at home and about. That is what I am aiming for with all my dogs. Regardless of whether we are training a companion or a competition dog, the same principles of rearing the puppy applies to all.
Ideally, when we get our puppy he will spend 80% of his time socialising. This encompasses learning new experiences, meeting different people and different animals, and of course, other dogs. Learning social skills is very important and will have an impact on the rest of the dogs life. Less time (about 20%) is spent on training good manners, like sitting for food, waiting at the door until released, no picking up food until released by the handler. At this early stage we are setting the ground rules of what our criteria are and the puppy will learn if it does not meet the criteria then there will be no reward of any kind. Clear criteria, consistency and timing are our most important tools when training our dogs for life as they are for performance.
As the puppy grows up after about 4-6 months, more time is spent of fun games that train the dog in a positive manner, forming a relationship built on trust and respect. The dog is learning how to handle his body in different situations, being aware of all parts of his body, being confident walking on different surfaces for example. A strong emphasis is placed on the value of coming back to the handler when called.
Only a small amount of time is spent on training heel, sit, drops and staying in position. All still very useful exercises, all trained in a positive manner that will teach our dog to want to interact with us, because they enjoy the experience.
When I take my dog out today, she is a model canine citizen. She is well mannered in human and canine company. All her interactions are being managed by me. She is happy just being a dog, running around, sniffing things out, finding sticks and meeting friends, but whenever I ask her she engages with me. She is incredibly focussed, obedient and able to control her impulses. All her interactions with me are happy, which is obvious in her body language. Her ears are erect and alert, her tail is up, her stance says ‘ready for action’.
In my eyes she is brilliant and most people who meet her would agree. So when she is brilliant and does an awesome job, I will reward her, because I think she deserves it. My rewards vary, they may be food, they may be a toy or it can just be being released to run free. Would there be any reason why I should not reward my dog for being brilliant?
I understand that most pet dog owners want their dog to walk nicely, to show good behaviour around others, to sit and stay when told, to wait for their food until released to it. These are all behaviours that I also expect all of my dogs to do and I know they will.
So why would pet owners not want their dog to be like mine? Would not every young rugby player strive to play like Jonathon Thurston? Not that I can compare myself with this genius. But what is wrong for aiming high?
I do not expect pet dog owners to want their dog to heel like mine. But I am sure I can help them work with their dog at a level that they require and make managing their dogs easier.
My aim as a dog trainer is to help other dog owners achieve a harmonious relationship, where dogs can learn with very clear criteria and be rewarded for doing a great job. Where dogs look forward and enjoy working with their owners.