The early 1990's saw the introduction of a belief system that has probably done more harm to all dogs and taking formal obedience competition to its death throes than any other single thing. That system of training is what I have always though of as the "wish method of dog training". Based almost completely on idea that everyone has to be able to feel good about themselves without every lifting a finger to do the work necessary to develop both mind and body of the participants. In this case, the participants are on the right side the human and on the left side the canine.
Moving almost in lockstep with the "wish method of dog training" arrived the Internet and a way of communicating with others that made it possible for a person to never set foot outside their home and yet be able to show pictures of them teaching a dog to do all sorts of really amazing things. Now everyone with a computer and a camera or two could become the owner of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin all rolled into one.
Meanwhile, if you have managed to read this far you are most likely wondering what on earth is she ranting about this time or maybe it is more a case of "get to the point old woman". Humm...yes, well the point just happens to be that dogs need to be able to see/hear/feel the connection between cause and effect. To put it another way, they need to be given ALL the necessary information and then allowed to make mistakes and in doing so learn from those mistakes. This does NOT happen by pretending the mistake never happened. It does not happen through withholding praise or treats or toys. The biggest flaw in that way of doing things is always going to be the inability of the human to accurately gauge just what equals praise/reward to the dog.
So that takes us right back to actually training a dog to follow a set of rules and in doing so become successful at completing an assigned task. Not just completing the task, but doing so in a workmanlike manner. Completing said task in a way that doesn't just please the human, but more to the point pleases the dog.
The pictures below were taken of the Novice A ring at the Penn Ridge Kennel Club, Inc., in Harrisburg, PA on Saturday, August 14, 2010. As you can see it was a small entry. Small entries being the new norm and the warning bell there is something very wrong with the sport.
The group doing stays consists of mainly dogs representing the "power breeds". There were two exceptions and they were a Sheltie being handled by a very young girl and a Yorkie being handled by a first-timer. The line-up starts with a Giant Schnauzer sitting next to a Black Russian Terrier and ends with an American Staffordshire Terrier sitting between a Doberman and a Newfoundland.
Now let's look at what was wrong from the very beginning. Wrong before the handlers gave the stay command or left the dogs. You may not be able to spot it in the first picture even on close inspection. If you can't spot it in the first picture move on to the second picture.
The line isn't straight. In the first picture it appears to be straight and yet, just as soon as the humans are removed from the line the Dobe shifts back and the AmStaf starts moving forward. Study the picture some more. The Yorkie was behind the tape line and now is in front of the line. What we don't know from the still shot is whether or not the Yorkie is forward in the second picture because the judge had the handler move her forward or because she shifted herself forward.
What is important to keep in mind is the fact that this 10 pound Yorkie is now in a very exposed and potentially dangerous position. She is still far enough back to be pretty much out of sight and therefore out of mind as far as the Giant Schnauzer, the Black Russian and the Sheltie are concerned. However, she is now also in full view of the Doberman, the AmStaff and the Newfoundland. Her danger is much clearer now. The AmStaff is up and hunting. This picture shows just how near the danger is while the handler slowly walks across the ring to attempt an intercept of her offending dog.
To play the "what if" game, just what do you think would happen if the Yorkie had been trained in a stress-free manner that never included any real consequences for the misbehavior of stay breaking? Before you answer look closely at where the Yorkie and the AmStaff appear to be looking. Note where the handler is. Note where the judge is. Note there is not a single steward in sight.In the following picture we see it took the handler so long to reach the AmStaff it was already to the end of the line and offering a direct challenge to the Giant Schnauzer. One has to wonder what the handler was thinking when she wasted time going between the Schnauzer and the Black Russian to then grab her dog by the groin area.
Yes, the Yorkie is still holding her sit/stay. You aren't able to see her because of the distance left between her and the Sheltie. Tension had to have been running really high at this point.
Sure enough, the Schnauzer is unable to withstand the distraction and is willing to take the challenge. Now we see the Schnauzer's handler added to the mix. The Sheltie is still holding, but the pressure has caused a lift of one front paw.
Much noise and some spit while the two humans are forced to use lots of muscle to get them apart and keep them that way.
Two much pressure, tension, stress for the Doberman who gets up and does what? Appears to be moving across the ring toward the handler. Still no stewards in sight, but the Doberman handler has moved in to intercept her dog. And the Yorkie, all 10 pounds of her is still sitting right where she was left.
Come time for the down/stay and there is a very large hole left between the Yorkie and the Newfoundland.
For the Yorkie, who by the way is our very own Ellie is was just an interesting bit of entertainment. Don't know how the others felt. The thing that kept her safe was a solid sit/stay. What many of you readers may not know or perhaps don't remember is that Ellie came to us just one year ago as a "throw away". A victim of the sever downturn in the economy, Ellie was labeled a special needs dog. She was supposed to need a home without children, without other pets and she was labeled as dog aggressive.
Over the past year we have taught her the rules and they are exactly the same for every dog. It doesn't matter if said dog weights 6 pounds or 140 pounds, they all have to follow the rules. We taught her to be obedient in ways that matter. She comes when called, holds sit, down and stand stays with ease and confidence. She heels off lead as reliably as she heels on lead, neither lagging behind nor pulling ahead. So it just seemed reasonable to enter her in some obedience trials and test her training against the training of other dogs. She earned her first leg and a second place this day. On Sunday she earned her second leg and a first place. The two trials represent her first and second time in the obedience ring.
Group stays are NOT dangerous when all the dogs, no matter what the size, are well trained. The way I see things these days, there is very little chance for the average owner to actually be successful in the obedience ring even at the Novice (Companion Dog) level due to the sever shortage of qualified instructors.
Qualified instructors teach owners not just what they think they want, but also what they really need. Along the way the owners find a new and wonderful world opening up for them and their dogs. A world they could never have ask for since they didn't even know it existed.
As a trainer/instructor are you opening up the wonderful world of dog obedience training and trialing to your students? Or are you insisting is isn't necessary to do anything more than the very least amount of work necessary to help your owners feel good about themselves even if they end up having to kill the dog.
My current rant isn't truly over, I'm just stopping.
Last comment. All my students who attended these 2 trials came home with not only what they went to earn, but more. As for Ellie, she earned 2 legs toward her CD as well as a second place to be followed by a first place. I'm very, very proud of both Ellie and Sydney her part owner, trainer and handler.