Taking a break from the stress series today to answer a couple of really good questions from yesterday. I’ll get back to it, hopefully early next week, focusing on stress prevention from a training perspective and stress as it relates to the human half of the team.
Yesterday, Elizabeth wrote: “Do you think different breeds require different considerations in terms of preparations for the ring?”
Yes and no. They’re all dogs, right? Four legs and tail? So in that sense, no. They all require a reasonable program of training and proofing to get ready for the ring. It’s helpful if newbie trainers can find an obedience mentor to help them evaluate if they’re ready to show, or better yet, to help them get ready in the first place. Pick someone whose dogs you admire in the ring - most handlers are glad to help and if you need to take a couple of lessons, it’s money well spent.
But beyond that . . . I prefer to think of dogs as individuals instead of specific breeds. A dog who is bold and confident will not need the same training and handling approach as a dog who is more reserved or has fear issues, no matter what breed it is. I avoid breed stereotypes, cuz they’re absolutely NO help when it comes to actually solving a problem.
Example: I was at a seminar once when Jamie was very young (1-2 years). I was really struggling with some attention issues — his head was on a swivel — and the seminar giver summed it up as, “Oh, he’s just being a Terv.” WTF did that mean? See? No help at all. And I shudder to remember how much I paid for THAT advice. I went home and trained through the problem myself.
However, purebreds have been selectively bred for generations for very specific traits (work closely with humans, work as a pack, work independently, etc.) so in that regard, no, all dogs are not the same. You might say they don’t have the same world view. Can you train an Australian cattle dog the same way you would train a golden retriever? I think the only person who could say for sure would be someone who had trained both an ACD and a golden.
On the surface, those two breeds are worlds apart in terms of purpose. While the basic training methods would initially be the same, I suspect there would be some tweaking and fine tuning of methods to accommodate each dog’s personality and temperament. But you could train half a dozen ACDs or goldens and each would have its own little quirks — so I think the bottom line is every dog’s training strategy requires a bit of “personalization” regardless of the breed. And once again, that’s where getting some “professional” help can be a wonderful thing, especially if you can find someone in your breed who has excelled.
Elizabeth wrote: “If you have a dog that is extremely uncomfortable being handled by strangers in general, is there anyway to convince them that any reward is worth not just tolerating the activity but enjoying it? If not, is it fair to subject them to that kind of stress (even if you can train them to tolerate it)? This is sort of a moral conundrum that I’ve been struggling with.”
I’ve been in that situation and I can honestly say that not showing Jess, my first sheltie, in obedience because of it never crossed my mind.
Jess hated the stands for exam in Novice and Utility (StrangerdangerheistouchingmeIamgoingtodie!) but he was such an insane freak about every other exercise — bouncing, barking, spinning, pouncing with sheer delight — it was obvious that the enjoyment of training and performing outweighed the few seconds of having a judge (or even my friends who he knew) touch him.
For Jess, the reward for tolerating the stands was the fact he got to continue “playing.” That worked well for us. If he hadn’t been so thrilled with the rest of the game, I probably would have retired him after his UD and not continued to show.
I am sure Jess never found any enjoyment in those thousands of stands I asked him to do but they were so strongly linked with the bigger picture he just squinched his eyes shut and leaned away from the judge (imagine his paws being glued to the floor but the rest of him leaning at a 45 degree angle). When it was over he was ecstatic. He never did like it, but he endured it and I wouldn’t say he was unduly stressed in any way by being asked to do them.
Like so many things in dog sports, to show or not to show a dog with an issue like this is a very personal decision. Am I exploiting my dog’s fear for the purpose of winning titles and ribbons for ME? Or is my training building a relationship that can only be strengthened because of our continued work together? I prefer to believe in the latter.
If the dog were terrified to the point of soiling the ring or bolting to get away from the judge, I might reconsider but generally, assuming the dog is relatively well-blanced otherwise, I would accept “tolerance” of an exercise that is obviously very difficult for the dog. Whether or not I would continue to show the dog beyond Novice, knowing there’s another, more challenging, stand in Utility would depend on how much fun both of you are having in relation to all the other aspects of obedience.
Not wanting to do something because the dog may or may not “like” it is dangerous ground. Everyone has their own philosophy but my dogs are not in the position of getting to choose what they like or dislike in terms of training and life in general. Jess didn’t like the stands. Phoenix doesn’t like out of sight stays. None of my dogs has ever liked having their nails clipped. But stands, out of sight stays and nail clipping are a fact of life at our house.
Another way to think about it is this - I hate getting up before dawn to drive to a trial when it’s 10 below zero in January. I hate hauling in heavy crates and I REALLY hate worrying about driving on icy roads. Nothing anybody can do will ever change that. But I still show in January because I LOVE showing. The benefits (fun, friends, playing with my dog, being in the ring) outweigh the negatives.