Beginning Obedience Training - Part 1
This article focuses on beginning obedience training. All dogs should be trained in the basics of come, down, sit, stay, and walking on a lead (preferably heel). Of course one of the benefits is a better behaved dog, but obedience training also clarifies a dog's position in the family pack, and when done well, increases bonding between the trainer and the dog.
I am not a professional dog trainer and am writing from my personal research, experience and beliefs. I have trained both large and small dogs and tried my hand competing in Obedience Trials. There are many methods of obedience training and I encourage you to research and find a method that is comfortable for you and suits your breed's temperament.
Our dogs become masters at reading us. If you are using a method you are not comfortable with, your dog's learning will be hampered, as s/he will likely be distracted by your own distress and confusion. I hope this article can be a springboard for further learning through the resources and web sites offered at the end.
CONSIDER WHAT YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH WITH OBEDIENCE TRAINING
This is one of those questions you should always ask yourself, regardless if this is your first dog or if you've trained several. Some people want to train so their dog can accompany them as companions and will be welcome back.
For years, this was my only goal in training and is still my main goal. Some people want to train with the intention of competing in AKC Obedience Trials.
Others want to train mainly in the hopes of avoiding behavior problems.
Knowing your primary motivation for training will guide you through the process of finding a trainer, what exercises you choose to train your dog, and can assist you in handling the inevitable problems that crop up during the training process.
WE'RE TRAINING OUR DOGS ALL THE TIME
It seems obedience training has been misunderstood by many to be the cruel shaping of a dog into a machine to do one's bidding. Perhaps this is the result of early obedience training techniques that taught forcing the dog to obey (compulsion) as integral to the training; or perhaps it's that most spectators at obedience trials can't imagine their own dogs ever doing the exercises, or that many dogs don't seem to be enjoying what they're doing.
Whatever the reason, many approach obedience training with anxiety, and a certainty they and their dog will fail.
What if we recognize that our every interaction with our dog is training?
Dogs and humans speak a much different language but, interestingly, we both communicate through body language and sounds. Just as you are attempting to de-code and interpret the body language and sounds of person's with whom you interact; your pup is attempting the same thing every time the two of you interact. You made associations when you were young that taught you human verbal and body language. Your pup needs to make the same associations to learn what you are trying to communicate. (Hopefully, you are observing your pup so you can make associations and learn what your pup is trying to communicate with you as well.) This is one of the primary reasons consistency in any training endeavor is an absolute pre-requisite for success, and why house training and teaching a dog to come when called so often fail.
In training our dogs, we must ask ourselves if our messages (i.e. verbal and physical behavior) are consistent. How, exactly, are we showing our dogs we approve of what they're doing? How, exactly, are we communicating disapproval to our dogs? Some of the ways I show approval include smiling, clapping my hands, higher and excited voice tones, the phrase "Good girl", food rewards, and petting. Some of the ways I show disapproval include lower and somewhat sad voice tones, somewhat sharper speech, glaring facial expression, and stiffer body posture. I avoid yelling, avoid using the phrase, "Bad dog", and almost never use physical punishment such as striking or jerking on a lead.
We also need to periodically re-evaluate if we're communicating in a way our dog understands. This should be the first question we ask ourselves if our dog isn't behaving as we'd like. It is not our dog's fault if s/he fails to learn what we want. We must accept the challenge of finding ways to effectively communicate with our dogs as part of the responsibility of ownership. The rewards are magnificent. It's a challenge I personally enjoy.
WOULD OUR CAIRNS FIND IT FUNNY THE METHOD THAT SEEMS TO WORK BEST WAS DISCOVERED IN EXPERIMENTS WITH RATS?
There has been a revolution occurring in obedience training in the 90's. The traditional and widely accepted method of training has been slowly getting replaced by an entirely different method of training, based not on forcing the dog to do what you want and then praising them, but on shaping the dogs behavior with rewards and praise without the use of force. This newer approach is based on the applied operand conditioning methods pioneered by B.F. Skinner in his experiments with rats and some of the basic tenants are directly opposite to the more traditional methods. They are quite similar to the methods used to train those amazing performing dolphins most of us have seen in zoos. Hadn't you ever wondered how in the world they got the dolphins to do those amazing tricks, and so happily?
Skinner took rats and placed them one to a cage, with a lever in the cage that resulted in a pellet of food whenever pressed. Essentially, what Skinner discovered is:
Skinner's method was named Operand Conditioning, and is now being used as the basis for several methods of obedience training, all generally falling under the heading of Motivational Training but also can be called clicker training, treat training, or inducement training. Skinners three simple concepts are revolutionizing obedience training, and from my experience and observation, seem to be a most effective way to train cairns. For one thing, the traditional compulsion methods of training were developed for large breeds.
The jerking into position on the heel and swooping down to position the sit are just not effective with small dogs. Also, the popping leash corrections are often too rough for small dogs whose necks don't have the thick musculature of the larger breeds, and can cause slipped vertebrate or damage to the trachea.
GIVE SOME THOUGHT TO YOUR CAIRN'S TEMPERAMENT
Cairn Terriers were bred to be equals and leaders, not followers. They were bred to think independently without having to depend on constant direction from their trainer. Cairns do not tolerate efforts to intimidate them (How could they and face off with wild rats?) and will usually resist and resent training methods that rely on force. They seem to need a reason to do something, and just pleasing their trainer may not often be reason enough.
Also, Cairns tend to consider themselves and their time valuable so do not like to waste it repeating the same exercise over and over. You may find your Cairn becoming bored when exercises are repeated many times in class.
Observe how many repetitions it takes for your cairn to start losing attention and begin stopping before this occurs, rejoining the class when they move on to the next exercise.
There are also differing temperaments among cairns. For instance, all my Cairns have been true scrappy terriers but my first and third had an interest in pleasing me. My second was so independent that at 10 weeks of age, when most puppies are wanting to stay close, she headed down the sidewalk pursuing a smell, totally oblivious to my efforts to get her attention. She was strong willed throughout life and definitely not interested in doing something just because it would please me. She resisted obedience training, running a full 6 months behind any dog I'd ever trained. Motivational methods would have been a wonderful way to get and keep her interest as well as reward her for obeying, if it had been a method of training available to me at the time.
CHOOSING AN OBEDIENCE INSTRUCTOR
It is helpful to observe an actual class in session and join a class with other small dogs in attendance. Several instructors in my area train in the traditional compulsive methods but say they are familiar with motivational training. However, people serious about obedience training for trials tend to know where the good instructors are so calling around and observing different classes is a great way to narrow things down. It is not a good idea to switch back and forth between philosophies during training, but that is not the same thing as trying different methods within the same philosophy. A good instructor is willing to adjust training methods to suit the dog. That is the ideal type of instructor to look for, no matter what training philosophy is used.
Some questions to consider:
Are the dogs acting interested and willing or sullen and resistant?
BASIC PRINCIPLES OF OBEDIENCE TRAINING
This is done slowly over a period of months. Be sure to use other forms of praise in place of the treat reward.
Following are instructions for one way to basically teach sit, heel, stay, the recall, and down. They are presented in progression and build on one another. You can use them to introduce your dog to the exercises before starting an obedience class.
There are many ways to teach these exercises within the philosophy of motivational training. If you know you are interested in competing in obedience trials, I suggest you get an obedience training book written with competing in mind, a copy of the AKC Obedience Regulations, and attend a good training class (see the Resources in Print section).
Attend and observe all three levels of obedience and let your obedience instructor know you are interested in competing in trials when you sign up for class. It is essential you know what the exercises should look like when done correctly before you start training and you will need to be more precise (not more demanding) with your dog from the start. It is much more difficult to repair sloppy obedience habits than to train properly from the beginning.
This page has been visited times since October 26, 1998
This page was last March 30, 2002
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