Avoiding Confusion Especially if You Want to Compete
I, prior to this last year, I didn’t live in a “family” structure. I was always a single dog trainer living in a dog training world. When I raised a puppy, I was extremely consistent and had control over an tremendous amount of its environment comparatively to most people. I didn’t realize how a change in that family dynamic would change my abilities to train, and also how unrealistic some of my former expectations on my clients were, my belated apologies to them.
I have two geriatric neutered male dogs; one is ten and a half and the other just turned eight, so they have already been through the learning process. Inconsistency and incorrect commands barely make them raise an eyebrow, they can usually determine what is meant. Their obedience is impeccable they rarely, if ever get into trouble.
But, I recently got a puppy and added her into an already acclimating family. My boyfriend has not been a dog trainer his whole life and he and his kids are not use to using my commands or aiming for consistency in all situations. I am a professional dog trainer transported into a normal life and I am trying to learn to adjust and make some acceptances.
In the past, if a dog jumps up my command is “Off” meaning-get off! But now if the puppy flies through the air she is often told “Down”-which in my world means lay down. Although I know they diligently try to say the right things at the right moments and I am quick to jump in with the correct command, I can still see my puppy’s obedience beginning to deteriorate.
It’s not her fault; she is confused and she is taking advantage of those who seem a bit weaker by trying to get away with whatever small infraction she can. It is not only human nature to see how far you can push your limits, it is animal nature as well. It is not my new family’s fault, they don’t see the importance of total control and consistency, they are not professional dog trainers, and they are doing their best. I don’t want to become the dog training TYRANT, or not allow them contact with the puppy. Mostly it’s MY fault.
The more I work with her and teach her, the less inconsistency should really matter. Life isn’t perfect, and I certainly can’t control the other humans around me all the time so I have to learn to do the best with what I am given. I have to spend more time working on positive reinforcement, reinforcing good behaviors and trying to monitor the time they spend together to the best of my abilities. Soon she should know, even through inconsistency what behavior is expected in any given situation.
A funny story actually, many years ago I was training a police dog and he lived with me. He and I spent a great deal of time together training and working and I took him everywhere, I even took him home with me one time for Thanksgiving dinner. All of his obedience commands were in German which is like a second language to me, because I have worked with police dogs and working dogs for so long.
However, it was not a second language to my mother. In German, the word for down is “Platz” and the word this dog had been taught to attack on command was “Poken (excuse my spelling)” , to my horror and from across the house I watched in slow motion as my mother got down in this new dog’s face, pointed to the floor and repeated “Poken, Poken” over and over again.
I swear as I began to dart into the room he looked over at me with a smirk and a giggle, shook his head and laid down. It was as if to say “Stupid lady! Does she really want me to bite her in the face?” Thank goodness he had been trained well enough to recognize the situation did not call for what she was asking.
What If You Want to Compete?
For the most part, I want a pet; a well behaved good pet that is good with the children and listens to everyone. But, I would also like to compete with her at some point in the near future. So I came up with a strategy to help her maintain her pet status and continue to work on her obedience, but to also ensure that her competition obedience is infallible.
I use to run an organization to train Service Dog for adults and children with disabilities. It was and always will be my favorite job when working with animals, just to see the huge difference they are able to make in people’s lives. When I had to close my nonprofit and move, I wanted another activity I could do with my demonstration dog and pet Mr. Snitch, but his obedience although phenomenal for being a Service Dog, was not competition ready.
Service Dogs sometimes spend 8 or more hours out in public going wherever their person goes. They are taught to stay in heal position or slightly in front or behind the person; whatever the person’s needs are. Mr. Snitch knew all the positions and his heel work was excellent, however it was not what judges look for in a competition.
In competition obedience, the judge wants a dog that stares into the eyes of his owner and pays no attention to his surroundings. The opposite is true of Service Dogs, they must watch their environment and look for large enough holes for both them and their person to sneak through. It would be unrealistic for them to give eye contact to their owner for 8 hours at a time every time they moved, and it would be dangerous.
So, I had to re-teach Mr. Snitch how to heel in a competition. The “Heel” command had been ruined for competition because to him it meant to stay in the right area, but to drop his head and study his environment. So I decided to teach him German commands.
German meant there was no room for sloppiness! Each command although he knew them already were re-tooled and had a different level of precision. He excelled at learning, because I used positive reinforcement, we incorporated his ball as a reward for staring into my eyes and I have numerous Blue Ribbons on my wall to show an old dog can learn new tricks.
So, when frustration set in over the confusion and inconsistency in my environment; I thought back to Mr. Snitch and realized that was the answer to my conundrum. After the baby learns all of her manners and we have worked on the general meaning of the English words, I will teach her and ONLY HER German so that we can compete together and no one will misuse the commands. I think this will also help as we take casual walks and trips out so that she can continue to “be a dog”.
So if you are not competing but you are having a confusion/inconsistency problem remember that the most effective way to fight this dilemma is to spend more time together having fun and training, get the whole family and the kids involved! I even find it helpful to have each child teach the dog a trick of their choosing. And, if you are competing or want to with your dog and need a little help on the home front, I have found this to be a very effective way to get all you want in your dog!