Sunday, August 15, 2010

Training by the Wish method

To read the original story that goes with these pictures please go to:

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.

Since the dogs are sitting on mats and the two mats have been taped it should jump out at you. What?

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.


  1. Pam & Cabot8:39 PM

    GO ELLIE & SYDNEY!!!!! You ladies are all that & then some. Go Applewoods Dog Training!!!

    We miss everyone and can't wait to get back with you!!

  2. Excellent post! Sorry we didn't meet, I was there both days in Open A, Q'd yesterday with a 4th place :) Unfortunately, it didn't happen for us today. Btw, a Rottie got up in the Open ring during the out of sights and went and stood over another dog - the steward and judge were quick to react and no harm was done but it could have been dicey.

  3. Anonymous11:44 PM

    This is exactly why I haven't taken Connery Beagle up to CDX, in spite of my longing for a VCD2 (we're still working on #1, but we're close, and he's got his MACH). After being viciously jumped at not one but two dog shows, what are the chances I want to do the long stay exercises while forced out of sight so I can't intervene if necessary? Trust the stewards to do it? I don't think so.


    If I can find enough volunteers to stake out the ring and jump in if *any* dog breaks his stay and heads toward the Beagle, one day I might try it--but if that happens enough times, it'll teach him the wrong thing about what "stay" means. Anyway I'm not there yet. It took 6 months to get over the first attack (giant breed). It took 18 months, x-rays, therapists, and unending retraining to get over the second. I don't happen to think either of us would recover from a third.

  4. Hey this is Sydney, Ellie's other owner. What you don't know about this little dog is that she could have died. If it weren't for the training she would be 6 feet under.

    I left her on a sit stay and about 15 seconds in the Amstaff broke and started sniffing around the other dogs. The judge told his owner to go get him. She didn’t move. The stewards didn’t move. The judge told his owner a second time to go get him. She started to creep across the ring.

    Meanwhile, the AmStaff finally got to the middle of the row right next to Ellie. She looked at him and didn’t move. He looked at her and for a split second everything was hanging off the ledge. He began to sniff her up close and personal. He hovered above her as if to say the final blow was going to take place. He fortunately realized she wasn't being moved by this so he moved on down the row to the other dogs with his owner creeping up. I held my breath while still remaining in a smile the same thing I had on when I left her.

    He came to the Giant Schnauzer. And here was a dog that was willing to accept the challenge and forgo the sit/stay directive. I just have to say two things about that. One being that the Amstaff chose the wrong dog to pick a fight with being as he was so much bigger then him. Secondly that the Giant Schnauzer's owner went to get his dog immediately and wasted no time doing it. While the woman just stood there and finally picked up her feet to go get her dog and stop disturbing the peace (or lack there of).

    It really bothers me when poorly trained and ill-prepared dogs are brought into the obedience ring and then present a threat to others. If you can’t or won’t use training methods that develop self-control and good manners in your dog…keep it at home.

  5. I'll be honest, this is why I'm leery of going for a CDX with Duncan. We're a leg away from a CD, I just need to get my ring nerves under control. He's actually doing a lot better with Open training, as there's more activity (which really means I trust his retrieve to pull us through while I worry about how much I screw up the heeling).

    We will looking for small shows and I will do what screening I can of the other dogs- if I see a dog I wouldn't trust alone with Duncan, we'll scratch. I put too much time into making him a reliable service dog to wreck it over out of sight stays.

    The last show we went to was great- the judges and stewards were on top of things. When dogs broke stays in Novice A and B, it was to head for their owners, and when the Open dogs were breaking stays, they were lassoed quickly. There was a steward at each end of the line, halfway down the ring side, and they would lasso a dog and lead it out to hand off to the person working the ring sign in, so when four dogs broke, she, the stewards, and the trial secretary all held dogs. I'd feel safe going back to shows that dog club put on.

  6. Here is an idea. If the dog breaks the stay and reaches another dog, not only
    They should be kicked out from the event, but if that happens again at another trials the dog should be either suspended for a long time or never allowed to compete at AKC events again .

  7. Anonymous9:02 AM

    You know, knock on wood, I haven't seen anything happen at the Open trials that I have witnessed in waiting for my own Novice trials. I will say during Novice trials, the judge was incredibly slow in removing a lab that started to make out with Magoo. Then at our last leg we earned, same lab and different judge, judge is walking over Magoo during the long down for a good minute and just looking at the other dog who was broken during that time. Nothing challenging or aggressive either time from that dog, just a flirty black lab. Glad to see Magoo keep his down, but couldn't believe how long the judge waited to have the other dog taken out. If that had been a fight waiting to happen in the open ring, it would have been a serious problem.
    -Robin Rubin Mannerly Mutts

  8. Well, I do not compete, and that was a scary set of photos.

    Why, indeed, was the AmStaff not DQ'ed earlier?

    Did his handler EVER have his attention?

    "Training" just doesn't mean what it used to.

  9. Patty Sontag10:02 AM

    It really sounds like many of the people posting think the only way to train a dog reliably is with force and harsh corrections. I trained my Kerry Blue to his UD with positive reinforcement - no ear pinches, collar corrections, prong collars or electronic collars. HE NEVER BROKE HIS STAYS, EVEN WHEN OTHER DOGS CAME UP TO HIM AND GOT IN HIS FACE. He NEVER NQ'd on stays on his way to his CD or CDX - NEVER! I proofed and proofed his stays and they were solid before I stepped foot in the ring - my instructor made sure of that. Perhaps other handlers, instead of showing their 9 month old puppies in Novice, should wait until their dogs are a bit more mature and have more self control before putting them in situations that they can't handle. I know I would certainly appreciate that. The problem isn't positive reinforcement, it's the people who are in such a big rush to get their OTCH by the time the dog is 2 or 3. Don't shoot the method, shoot the stupid person at the other end of the leash who has entered their dog WAY too early without being sure that their dog can handle the situation. Anyone who knew him wanted to be placed next to him - they knew he was solid. Unfortunately, I lost him to cancer 3 weeks ago and picked up his ashes this morning. He was one GREAT dog.

  10. Good enough to trigger a new blog entry.