Central to this discussion is the concept of reliability. The dog whose performance is unreliable or unpredictable is not trained. The herding dog that may or may not round up the sheep, the retriever that might fetch and the guard dog that might listen are all liabilities. None would be considered trained. All would require further training before ever being permitted to do the work for which they had been selected.
Performance standards for working dogs are used to determine if the dog will reliably do the work he’s been trained for. The dog whose role is to be the family companion serves an equally important function but the job may not be as clearly defined. Up until recently, however, there was general agreement on skill sets that would be basic to any well behaved family dog and which could be used as the foundation for further, more specialized training (should this be desired). These basic skill sets were what made up the minimum performance standards for the companion dog.
These skill sets are the foundation of the Canadian Kennel Club obedience trials and their purpose is cited to be, “to demonstrate the usefulness of the purebred dog as a companion of man, not merely the dog’s ability to follow specified routines in the obedience ring. The basic objective of obedience trials is to produce dogs that have been trained to behave in the home, in public places, and in the presence of other dogs…” The American Kennel Club says essentially the same thing and adds the concept of, “at all times and under all conditions.”
Getting back to my dog Boots for a moment. Despite his training for the obedience ring, he was primarily my companion. His obedience training, because of the exercises being taught, resulted in his being a much better companion. This has proven true over and over again.
In the early 1990’s we saw the emergence of the “Pet Dog Trainer” movement. While it was never their stated intent to abandon the existing standards for a companion dog, nevertheless, this is what they effectively did. This has been problematic for the consumer as there is no longer any consistency or minimum expectation of results they should reasonably expect from someone who takes their money in exchange for dog training services. Some programs offer a fair amount of substance while others offer almost nothing. Among pet dog trainers there has been a real resistance to defining measurable performance standards that a trained dog should be able to meet.
This issue bothered me so much that it became a personal cause I pursued through the IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals). Through the IACP, we debated this issue after which a committee was struck (of which I was a member) and we formulated standards that were subsequently adopted. The intention of these standards is to serve as guidelines for consumers so that they will have something by which they can evaluate outcomes they should be able to expect for their training time and money. A copy of these standards is available on the IACP web site www.dogpro.org and can be downloaded for information purposes.
I’ll conclude this segment with a couple questions:
What is a trained dog? What is the client paying for? If you decide to abandon the Novice standard as the basic measure of a trained dog (and many have) what standard do you replace it with?