Monday, January 14, 2013

Evolution, Part 1

I’ve been writing this for a long time. The problem with blogging is once you’ve posted it, it’s out there forever, for the entire universe to read, and I want to make sure my thoughts are presented as clearly as possible. The purpose of this series of posts is to review my journey as a trainer. I’m sure some of  you will remember and relate. For others who have come to the sport only recently, this first post will be a foreign concept. Either way, it’s been enlightening to look back and trace my journey through a sport that changed tremendously. Everyone's journey is different. These are my impressions.

I started training dogs as a kid in the local 4-H program in the 1970s. In the following 40 years, the evolution of training dogs for competitive obedience has been staggering. While it’s probably safe to say most trainers have abandoned jerk and yank methods, new training concepts are not always embraced enthusiastically. There is always a great deal of nay-saying when new ideas come on the scene. Some people welcome new methodologies with open arms while others reject them, almost on the principal of disliking anything new.

Back in the day, my instructors were 4-H leaders. I think they might have had a couple of CDs and maybe a CDX between them. We were taught to use physical force to make our dogs obey because that’s how you taught dogs who was in charge. Dogs had to obey every time we told them to do something. If they didn’t, we were taught to correct them with no regard to why they were being “disobedient.” We were taught to never let a dog “get away” with being disobedient. I suspect this worked for me because the first dog I trained was the geriatric family beagle. Even as a 9 year old kid, I could control her physically. If I’d had a young, large or rambunctious dog, things might have gone differently.

Corrections were part of training. They were implemented early and often, usually before the dog realistically had any idea what we wanted him to do and therefore how to avoid the correction. It didn’t matter - we were taught to show the dog who was boss. Dogs were never encouraged to think for themselves, only obey their handler. No one gave their dogs treats. No one played with their dogs. “Heeling training” might be 20 minutes of marching around the building, doing jerk and release corrections with dogs on chokers.

If I had to pick one word to describe obedience training back then, it would be "confrontational."

This was my introduction to obedience and it stuck for about 20 years. I really do understand why so many people fled from the obedience scene to what they perceived as the greener hills of agility when that option became available.

Well, I lived through that. Tomorrow: the cookie revolution


  1. Ahhhh, 4-H dog training in the 70's. I remember it well - or I would if I had been allowed to join. My sheltie, Laddie, was around 2 years old when I tried to join, and it was VERY STRONGLY suggested to my parents that he was too old to be trained and that I be encouraged join do something else. Needless to say, Laddie & I didn't get to do 4-H dog training.
    It would be 25 years before I had another dog to train. Like Laddie before her, Belle was around 2 years old when I enrolled her for her 1st training class. This time, nobody said she was "too old to train."

  2. Just a couple of comments.

    "New" ideas are sometimes rejected because they aren't actually new. There is another trainer who has a blog and keeps saying how "new" her training method is - except it isn't. Parts of it are decades old and none is new in this decade. And all most all of it has been proven to not work with dogs that are not highly biddable. If she can do that, I'd have another look but so far?

    And, the confrontational method of obedience training was long gone before we got agility, at least out here on the left coast. Most of the folks out here who "fled" to agility did so because it was billed as "easy" and "fun", and it does show in their dogs' runs. I have very rarely run agility outside of CA so I don't know what it is like elsewhere, but here we have many if not most people happy if their dog more or less pays attention and gets thru the course. Not the sort that would enjoy the challenges obedience provides! ;-)