Through the years, obedience training has evolved from a fairly straight forward process involving a leash, a collar, physical corrections and verbal praise to an incredibly complex process of motivators, lures, rewards, random reinforcement, negative punishment, clickers, toys, targets, guides, shaping, “offered” behaviors and even gadgets that release goodies at a distance via a hand-held remote.
It’s quite en vogue now to add multiple levels of complexity to obedience skills so the dog may be asked to do half a dozen different behaviors all in the name of performing one exercise. I understand the need to keep the dog’s mind engaged and maintain a sharp competitive edge and think a lot of these "bonus" exercises are a lot of fun but . . .
. . . after looking at Phoenix’s roller-coaster obedience career from lots of different angles, I find myself wondering if I have muddied the waters of his training to the point where he simply does not understand how to perform a string of formal obedience exercises as he is expected to do in the ring because those formal exercises look nothing like our training sessions. When he acts like he’s never been asked to do them before . . . well . . . maybe it’s because he hasn’t.
I think my biggest failure with this wonderful dog is that I have put 98% of our training time into informal work and 2% into structured formal work . . .
. . . because I’ve been told repeatedly that formal training is boring. Demotivating. Dull. Counter-productive to building a partnership that sparkles with energy. On the surface, perhaps it is. And for a majority of dogs, perhaps it is true.
But I am not training a majority of dogs – I am training Phoenix. As his trainer, I need to give him what he needs to understand his job and to perform it with confidence. He is clearly not generalizing the bits and pieces he sees in training into the complete picture he is asked to perform in the ring.
I love playing games and working separate skills versus whole exercises in training. It’s a lot of fun and I do believe it’s a great way to keep dogs fresh and challenged. However, the fact remains that my training with Phoenix in the last six years has not produced the level of performance I had hoped for. Some days he’s brilliant. Some days he’s dismal. We’re about halfway to his OTCh. but have absolutely zero consistency in the ring.
With this in mind, I’m trying a new approach to our training. Okay, it’s not new. It’s not some brilliant concept that I just dreamed up. It’s old fashioned and I’m sure a lot of people will wrinkle their nose and think, “Really?”
It’s training like we show so we can show like we train. Kickin’ it old school.
We’re doing formal run-throughs multiple times a week.
But wait, there’s more! Stay tuned for part III.