Do You Want a Well Trained Dog, or a Happy Well Trained Dog?

November 4, 2014

run to me hill cropIf you scroll down my personal Facebook page, you’ll find lots of photos of my dogs. There’s Bodhi standing atop a hill in the early morning; Sierra focused on a sound she hears in the distance; and many shots of each dog, separately or together, coming when called. These latter types of photos and are fun and exciting and, as one of my Facebook friends commented, “They do it joyously! Makes all the difference, I think!” She was absolutely right.

Obedience training isn’t rocket science. Of course, some trainers are better than others, and I’m not saying anyone can do it. But obedience skills are a fairly straightforward thing to teach if one knows what they’re doing and has the patience and persistence to stick with it. But unlike fixing a bathroom sink, in training, it’s not just the end goal that’s important. While a drain plug might not mind rough treatment or suffer long lasting effects, dogs certainly can. Here’s an example: The owner of Benny, a Rottweiler mix, believes that rock solid recalls are crucial. So far, so good. But after teaching the basics, he becomes frustrated when Benny doesn’t come when called in certain situations. There was the time Benny had his nose down a critter hole, and ignored the request to come. When he did finally return, his reward was a smack across the muzzle and a stern reprimand. Streak’s owner too knows the importance of a reliable recall, particularly because the little Aussie mix, true to her name, streaks across hillsides at manic speed. Streak’s owner trains a rock solid recall, but takes a different tactic. She sets Streak up to succeed by teaching the basics, and then building difficulty in distance and distractions gradually. She rewards Streak for good behavior along the way. When Streak doesn’t come immediately when called, sometimes the owner hides behind some bushes. Streak soon looks around to find herself alone, and begins frantically searching for her owner. When she finds her, all is good. At other times, her owner goes to Streak, leashes her, and the fun ends. Streak learns to pay better attention.

Fast forward a few months. Both dogs come to their owners when called. Benny, although he will dutifully come, doesn’t seem very happy about it. Streak, on the other hand, comes flying over hillsides, a big smile on her face, happy to play this fun game. And that, my friends, is the difference. Why does it matter how we train a dog, when we can get the same results with various methods, some faster than others? Teaching a dog that a painful or frightening consequence will follow if he doesn’t comply will certainly work. There’s no denying it. But what’s the end result? A dog who acquiesces out of fear of punishment. And, perhaps, a dog who does not especially enjoy working with the person doling out the punishment, or who loses trust in that person. Fear may create compliance, but it does not create a bond of trust or feelings of affection. Contrast that with the dog who is trained kindly and gently, yet effectively. The same reliable recall results, without the fallout. The dog enjoys working with the person, and trust is built. It’s patient teaching, teamwork and encouragement versus threats. Which way would you rather learn?

And so, when I receive comments like the one on Bodhi’s joyous recall photo, it makes me happy. I reflect on how far Bodhi and I have come. Yes, it took some time and patience, but the results were worth it. He’s not only got a rockin’ recall—all with a goofy grin plastered on his face—but our relationship has also blossomed.
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You can find my books, DVDs and 2015 seminar schedule at http://www.nicolewilde.com

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