Wednesday, June 16, 2010

So..........Define Training

Someone once told me that in their opinion, most dogs (90%) are untrained. I don’t know if that figure is accurate or not but I’ll agree that a large number are not very well behaved. One of the problems I have with that assertion is I’m not sure what the claimant means by the word “trained.” To muddy the water further, we have heard all kinds of ideas about how some kinds of early training can interfere with other (future) training.

Here are a few more rambling thoughts to add to the above subjects:

It has been estimated that an alarming percentage of high school students are functionally illiterate when they graduate. Similarly, I see a number of dogs that have been through school and permitted to graduate that are “training illiterates.” I think there is a correlation that is reflected in the prevailing cultural/political attitudes.

Politically, I can only speak for my small part of the globe (Ontario Canada). Prior to the 2004 election here, under a Conservative government, we had seen a return to standards and testing. The result was an improvement in the literacy rate. The teacher unions led the fight against reintroducing testing and standards and we heard some pretty crazy claims about how being forced to pass tests might damage a student’s self-esteem. They stated the ability to meet testable standards didn’t indicate a student is really learning or gaining anything. Parents, however, thought the standards were great and approval for standards and testing was very high. We once again have a Liberal government and there is already evidence that the academic standards will be abandoned for a more “feel-good” socially correct agenda. I see the same arguments used against holding training and trainers to any standards. The problem is thus a human, politically motivated one and not unique to teachers or trainers.

Does an average family dog (that has learned to abide by the house rules and do as she is told), qualify as trained? I have an actual dog in mind. I did not train this dog – her owners did not seek out any trainer and she did not go to any training classes. I met her because she lives next door to one of my former clients. She is an AussieXCollie mix about three years old. She stays off the road and the only place she is permitted to go is next door to play with the Newf (my clients dog). She always comes when whistled for and will stay put if told. I am told that in the house she is perfect and never gets into anything she isn’t supposed to. When outside and told to stay in her own yard she does. If a stranger walks in to the yard, she will bark and follow them to the door but other than sound the alarm, has never made any aggressive move toward anyone coming on the property. Let’s call her “Dog A” and hold her up for comparison to a couple other dogs.

Dog B is also three and has been going to school since starting puppy class at 12 weeks (has never been my student – only saw the dog in consultation). This dog has been through several beginner and “second-level” classes plus trick and agility classes. The dog supposedly knows all the obedience commands but when I asked the owner to get him to sit the owner was ignored – no sit. The dog also would not come and pulled on leash. The reason for the consult – the dog is “reactive” and has gotten into several fights with other dogs. The dog would only “perform” obedience commands once the owner bribed him with treats and only then for a brief period.

Dog C is a Standard Poodle I saw at a correction match. This dog was observed entering the building on his hind legs pulling for all he is worth. The owner’s arm was fully extended and the dog was all but hauling her off her feet. Inside the building people moved to get their dogs out of this poodle’s path and there were a number of growls from several other dogs. At one point the poodle jumped up on a table holding a bunch of premium lists. I was told (didn’t observe) that the dog would be better behaved once inside the ring.

Dog D lives next door and spends much of his time on the end of a chain. He does go inside when the family is home but otherwise he will wander the roads and they have to go running after him to get him back. Given the chance, he’ll shit in any yard but his own.

To my way of thinking the only dog that qualifies is Dog A. What dogs do you think qualify?

1 comment:

  1. I too would pick Dog A, but would also consider the circumstances.

    While the dog is what is considered an easily biddable mix of breeds, the people have expectations of her and ask that she conform to those. They might not have been to training class, but whatever they did to help her learn their way of life, along with what seems like a wonderful, people-oriented personality, has helped make her into a dog that might not be titled, but she is trained. I'll be willing to bet that she is given ample exercise too or has multple toys with which she plays in the house, so that she is not frustrated through lack of activity.

    The only other breed you specify is Dog C, which, while highly intelligent and biddable, was trained through inconsistency. I do not call this training, rather the dog is ring-smart...just as some dogs are food-smart, collar-smart, or just situation-smart: they will respond when the food is present, the training collar or headcollar is on, when the voice reaches a certain pitch, or only in the backyard because it won't listen when other dogs are around. This is not training and no matter what, even if the dog "passed puppy class," the dog is not considered trained in my book.

    Dogs B and D...where to begin, where to begin!