Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Training: Professional; Formal; Informal; None....

Ideal Dog: Also Brings Tea and Crumpets to Book Group

I liked a trained dog.
Okay, I haven't actually managed to train a dog to clean up after itself with a pooper scooper...that's just an idea that will make someone rich if they ever actually manage it. As you may be able to tell from the picture above, it would help if dogs had thumbs - thumbs make using a scoop and rake much easier.

We've talked about training before, in particular the importance of basic obedience has been mentioned.
I've recently noticed however, on a posting site I sometimes visit, that there is a huge range of what people consider a desirable/necessary level of training in the canines they live with.
I'd like to discuss that today, along with ask for your input on the level of training you consider ideal.

Obedience Class: holding "sit and stay" command

The above picture of a line of dogs holding a sit and stay are not a random group of canines that happened to be in a park one day. This is an example of a professional obedience class. I once took part in this level of formal training - I actually took my Shar Pei through a Shutzhund Obedience class. The dogs in the picture are taking part in a more commonly available AKC obedience class, which will allow them to take part in AKC sponsored obedience competitions, and earn titles as companion dogs. I've taken part in AKC and CKC (Canadian version) obedience classes.

It takes a certain amount of dedication on the part of the human partner to participate in such classes. Aside from the money paid to the head trainer, there is usually driving to and from the class, and practicing outside of class time which the human has to arrange. None of the dogs I have lived with have ever offered to pay for their own formal education or have taken the lead in scheduling training time.

Saint Bernard in Agility Trial

One does not have to pay a professional in order to train a dog.
Many people who end up doing agility training with their dog(s) build agility courses in their back yards and practice with friends who share this interest. I know that where I currently live a group of Border Collie owners used to get together and have their own agility practices just for fun. Of course, if you like more of a challenge, work with Saint Bernards rather than Border Collies...it takes a little longer to convince a Saint that he can  leap through the center of a hoop suspended in air.

And once you have some practice in training dogs, you may decide to be a little more informal, and train your dog yourself, at home and through outings to dog friendly places. Be sure you have practice and/or read a lot if this is your approach, just to make sure you aren't encouraging some unwanted behaviors.

A Lab that isn't Lil

I've noticed that I am somewhere between a slacker dog trainer and an automatic dog trainer these days; which group I fall into often depends on the moment and how self critical I'm being. When I compare myself to the human equivalent, I'm like the parent who has raised fifteen kids who realized about thirteen kids ago that eating a little dirt never really hurt anyone, and about eight kids ago that a little sibling squabbling better prepares them for the real world.

There are so many things I do now without thinking about it, like taking a dog out every hour until it is house trained, setting up schedules and routines for feeding, playing, leaving etc. My expectations are also probably more realistic then they were twenty or thirty years ago. I expect that some dogs will automatically take to walking on a leash, while others will just as automatically act like they are about to be taken on at least a reenactment of the Bataan Death March.

"We're doingwhat now!"

I can make some breed generalizations from experience: Labs, Rottweilers, and Shepherds like to work with people; Shar Pei are independent workers; Bull Terriers - hire them for comic relief during work breaks. I've also found that I can long term train and deal with just about any dog and their behavior quirks but that I'm also at a point in my life when I sometimes now see a problem dog and think, "I'm getting too old for that...."

I've also noticed that there is a huge range in what people consider acceptable behavior in their canine companions; as someone with a lot of experience and strong opinions, I will say some of this range is acceptable and some of it is not.

Little dog bites get infected too

It is not acceptable, for example, if the dog in your life is likely to bite me, even if it is small, or knock me down by jumping on me or banging into me. I also think there is a difference between having a dog loose in a dog friendly walking area, and having a dog run at me as I walk down a street or sidewalk, especially if the dog is charging with an aggressive posture rather than making a friendly approach.

Also realize, that big dogs and breeds with unfavorable reputations are going to intimidate some people just because they are big or their breed has a bad rep; they make a better impression for themselves and their breed when they are well trained and polite.

Good Canine Citizens

I think like all other aspects of the social contract that is part of living amongst other people, we have an obligation to maintain a level of civility between the canine companions we are responsible for and the world they take part in.

Maybe that means in your own home it is okay to let your dog eat at the table with you, if that's how you want to live. When you are eating out at a cafe and your dog accompanies you, he shouldn't eat off anyone else's plate.

A society also requires though, that we tolerate a range of viewpoints. So if you let your dog lick your mouth and that makes me cringe, I get to cringe inwardly but I shouldn't give you a lecture about where that dog's mouth has been. And if it makes you uncomfortable that I let my dog bounce off the sofa in the living room because I find it amusing - of course you are excused from visiting us - but don't bother constantly repeating "I don't know how you can live with that." I can, 'nuff said.

In other words, let's all try and be more tolerant of the acceptable range of dog behavior that takes place in other people's lives. If it isn't threatening or endangering the dog or a person, or another living being, or affecting another person's property, then let's accept that we're at different points in the amount of training we find necessary. Yet let's also remember, as with so many actions, what is acceptable at home is not necessarily acceptable in public, especially for your canine companion.


This is also a good point at which to remind everyone that one big advantage of adopting an older dog is that they are usually already trained, and have outgrown a lot of the puppy foolishness. The more I'm around puppies the more I love my middle-aged and senior canine friends.

I end today welcoming your opinions of what level of training you aim for; also, I'm sharing a picture that's been around the web for a while and does a nice job of showing an example of effectively trained dogs. There are over a dozen Shepherds eyeing up that very self assured cat.

(Caption reads: "Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil" Psalm 23)


  1. I'm posting this for Kathy - if anyone else is trying to post and the comment will not go through just send it to me - cmoslund@gmail.com

    I think you asked whether and how we like a dog trained.... My basic expectations are that a dog will accept all people and other, non-aggressive dogs. They don't have to enjoy all of them, but they are not allowed to be aggressive (without provocation).

    I think that training can go a certain distance with this, but it doesn't mean a dog will be reliable (at least to my mind) even if it is trained. What I mean is that a dog with fear-aggression around new people might be trained to sit-maintain when a new person approaches, but we are always going to have to manage their environment to prevent problems (such as always being there to tell the person to keep a certain distance).

    That said, I've rescued three elderly dogs and done varying degrees of "planned" training with them. One I did a fair amount, the other two very little. I say "planned" because, as I think you've said before, we're training our dogs all the time whether we think we are or not.

    So, Gilbert the deaf and half blind 14 year old beaglet gets a couple treats in his crate before he goes out for a last pee. You better believe he books it back to his crate, scrabbling across the wood floors at a rapid pace, to get back to his crate for those treats when he is let back in. I've trained him to expect treats.

    Similarly, his housetraining was less than solid when I got him. Now he knows to go to the back door to go out (or bay if he is in his crate). He does this reliably, but if I'm not there, he's going to let loose at some point (whereas my other two dogs would wait a lot longer). So, he's fairly housetrained. Peeing and pooping around the house was not OK.

    The three dogs are trained to know their spots to eat and I have an assembly line of food and meds I put together every meal.

    Those are the basics I expect from these elderly rescues (plus some fun stuff Ruby the retriever mix came with, such as catching treats, frisbees, balls).

    My pups, on the other hand, have gotten intensive obedience training. My main rationales were that they were planned for work in nursing homes and needed to be well-mannered. But I also think it is good for them to be thinking and learning in concert with their owners. I think the challenges and work together keep their brains busy and happy and builds their bonds with their owners. And I enjoy the work with them.

  2. Second part of Kathy's post:

    So, Gus my golden is ready for AKC Beginner Novice obedience competition and will run through this in a "fun match" at a regional dog show later this week. A "fun match" is a practice run for obedience competition where you are allowed to have treats etc. but get to experience an environment the same as a regular competition.

    Gus knows a lot of cues and we've worked hard to build his ability to hold them and proofed him against distractions. This comes in very handy. For instance, I can put him in a sit when I want to pick up some of his poop. He has a really reliable "drop it" and a pretty reliable "leave it" although he can still be pretty reactive to other dogs (he wants to play with them). I can cue him to "leave it" when he is guarding my corner house from interlopers walking on the street and he comes to me after one "woof." I can put him in a sit-maintain outside if I need to go in for a moment to grab something (my yard is unfenced). I know he might break it if a dog came down the street (they rarely do) and this is a risk I run that might turn tragic some day (he has zoomed across the street after a neighbor's cat once, suffice to say, he did not look both ways).

    Also, since I plan to take him to nursing homes and hospice, I can tell him "leave it" if there is a pill or food on the floor. He's learning not to jump on people (I think he'd be fine inside the nursing home with this, but he is scared to go in, so we're working on that). We've got a couple tricks he knows and will learn more.

    Gus is a gorgeous, calm, extremely loving dog and we get lots of compliments. I love the fact that he's a wonderful dog and can show what positive, treat-based training can do.

    Recently, my dogs had to stay in an alternate kennel as my regular one was booked (North Woods). The alternate one is a place where the owner also trains dogs with shock collars (I've heard that they may be putting people's dogs on shock collars during kenneling without their permission so we aren't going back). I told them when I dropped the dogs off that Gus was trained.

    When I returned they were gushing about how "eager to please" Gus is for a dog with no obedience training (not a good listener, obviously). I explained that this wasn't the case, he has a ton of training and I should have gone further to explain that it is positive treat-based training as people who believe in shock collars believe dogs trained with treats won't obey without treats. They were very impressed with Gus.... too bad I missed my teachable moment!


  3. Now - my responding to Kathy :-)

    Kathy - I have had several dogs that I took through temprement testing, in order to take them into visitation for nursing homes and pet therapy. The biggest challenge was my Schnauzer, who had an inborn instinct to bark at new things.

    Ironically, we had just qualified when life circumstances changed and we moved from Canada back to the U.S. -- where there was no established program for us to take part in. (I did work towards starting one but then had to move agin for graduate school....)

    Still, it was a good experience and one I am considering taking Lil through. She just needs to mature a little more and she will be a good candidate for visits - we have to work a little more on not licking EVERYONE, at least not constantly.

  4. Hi: Cool! Not licking... challenging with our loving retrievers, but not a universally beloved behavior.... Kathy

  5. Yes, getting a retriever to not lick is almost like trying to get them to not eat...a lot of training working against even more natural inclination.