No doubt most of you thought this article is about dog training – but that’s only partially true. This piece is also about human nature and how we are constantly struggling to incorporate new ideas while resolving issues which commonly arise out of a resistance to change. It’s also about dealing with basic disagreements and resolving interpersonal conflicts – these are human problems, the subject in this instance just happens to be about training dogs. Helping people with their dog related goals might be our primary motivation but regardless of what it is we set out to accomplish, we will get derailed if we cannot resolve the basic struggles that inevitably arise.
If any of you were to ever take a look at some of the stuff I’ve hung onto over the years, you’d see that I’ve collected a lot of stuff with a hope that someday I’ll be able to use it again. My closet is filled with hope – “Hope this comes back in style and hope I’ll be able to wear that again.” Platform shoes and bellbottom trousers are coming back – I just know it! Someday this will all be back in vogue! Ever notice how often “new trends” are often nothing more than recycled older patterns?
Ever hear the expressions, “everything old is new again” or “we’ve now come full circle?” Like most common expressions, these are grounded in a basic truth that comes from our human experience. It has also been said that we are doomed to continue repeating patterns and experiences from which we have not learned.
Anyone new to dog training is going to be in the same place I was when I began. That place is your own personal starting point – we all have one. You are all no doubt aware of the impact of first impressions … well, your own personal starting point is nothing more than a kind of first impression. Many of the views we have about something are strongly influenced by and grounded in, the prevailing views which make up that starting point. We like to view our beginning at something as fresh and new, unencumbered by the stale outdated ideas of the past. Your growth starts from that point and it may take awhile before you realize your starting point is probably not new and that the pendulum has in fact passed through that point before. Fact is, there is very little that is new when it comes to training dogs. The proof of this statement can be determined by reviews of old training manuals and through conversations with trainers that have been around a long time. Fact is that man has been working with dogs quite successfully for thousands of years. Still, there are many different views concerning the best way to train dogs.
Let me tell you about my starting point - back in 1982, when I first began trying to train my own dog. This may sound strange but the motivation was this: My wife and I had bought two Lhasa Apsos and I wanted my dog “Boots” to sit on command but I had no idea how to properly go about training him to do this. My wife found an advertisement for classes in the local paper and suggested maybe it would be a good idea for us to take the dogs to dog training class. Experience over the years has taught me that she is usually right – and debate only prolongs the inevitable - so off to dog training classes we went.
At that time the school we enrolled in described it’s method as “Praise and Correction.” The first handout they gave everyone stressed this point. We were to praise the dog when he was right and correct him when he was wrong. They did not believe in using food to train, saying it was an inferior method because if training is based upon “Bribery,” the dog will never be reliable. They stressed the importance of the owner taking charge as the most reliable approach. The owners were happy and everyone seemed to clearly love their dog. The dogs did very well and seemed to glow with the pride of accomplishment and the praise of their owners.
For my part, I not only ended up with a dog that sat – my original goal - but also learned a whole lot more. From this experience I was hooked and I went on to take Open and then Utility. It didn’t stop there…I also entered trials, got titles and joined the training staff of that club. Thus began my journey with dogs.
No doubt there are others reading this right now that had a similar experience. Am I correct?
Since I began my training experience, I’ve seen “new” methods emerge and I’ve seen techniques come and go. I’ve seen people with very strong opinions bring forward all manner of ideology – some of it quite extreme. The pendulum was swinging and me along with it. Likely the pendulum will continue to swing as it is driven by the energy of human viewpoint and endeavor.
Now consider this, despite the pendulum swinging, despite the changes in methodology that we’ve seen, the basic need remains. That need is to train the dog so that we can continue to live together in harmony and enjoy each other’s company. We are simply always on the lookout for better ways to meet that basic need.
It’s been said that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. In other words, if you can understand what the need is and find a better way of meeting that need, the public will insure your success. It also implies there will always be mice that need trapping and for us, there will (hopefully) always be dogs that need training.