Saturday, October 27, 2018

On Training a Dog

"M" asked me who's method I used to train Noodles. "D" gave me advice on how to train him. "H" wrote in to warn me how not to train him. 

Thank you everyone, your thoughts were gracefully listened to. But you see, I subscribe to a common sense approach to dog training. Basically, I try very hard to see the world and situation from the dog's point of view, then think like a dog. Quite long ago, in 1969 in fact, I got my first puppy and asked my mentor how to train her. He replied, learn to speak their language. Get into her head. Learn what it means to be a dog. See the world through her eyes. Watch how her brain works. Then try to learn how to communicate with her. Jeez, that wasn't the answer I was looking for. I wanted a cookbook set of infallible instructions. Take one puppy, stir in one cup of dog food daily, season with treats, bake for 6 months. Out of the oven comes one prefect dog. Ha! It didn't work that way. 

(Above: Carmen, my mother's dog. This dog was ultra smart and observant. Mom never had to do much to train her. Carmen believed in being a cooperative pack member. )

I knew nothing about dog training in 1969. Luckily I got involved with dog showing right away and was willing to listen to the experienced dog people of the day. I attended various dog training classes, read all the books, tried show obedience, tried sled dog working, and showed my puppy. But all my mentors repeated, think like my particular breed of dog. Learn how to talk fluent "dog". Luckily my first pup was a dominant but good natured Siberain Husky who wasn't above considering me to be the stupid one in the family, the difficult one to train. Boy, I learned a lot from that dog! She was quite the trainer. 

Years later I learned lots more from the various dogs I owned, or should I more correctly say, shared my life with. Each and every one of them was a different individual. To have used the exact same approach on each dog would have been a mistake. (Initially I tried that, and I was frustrated because it wasn't working or going smoothly. I was unhappy. The dog was unhappy.) To use just one person's trading regimen would have been like pounding the square pegs into the round holes. Not my idea of cooperative, successful training. 

So "M", I'm not a believer is following just one training method. I don't do the inflexible militaristic approach, nor the positive reinforcement only approach. I don't yell, don't use the "no" command (there's a better way to get the negative across), don't get mad, don't demand instant mindless obedience. I don't have long training sessions (those 1 hour training classes were really for training the owners not the dogs). I listen to the dog and work to communicate. It's not a case of demanding submission and obedience. It's a case of getting the dog to be a cooperative pack member, so that they know what to do, when & how, and what not to do. It's the dog learning the pack's rules and habits. 

I have some notions I still retain from my original mentors. I initially rejected their opinions, but gradually came to accept their wisdom. 
...learn the dog's talents and abilities and train to enhance them. In plainer words, don't expect my Siberian Husky to be a sheep herding dog. Best to train it to be a good sled dog. Ever wonder why most of the top agility dogs are Border Collies? That sport fits their talents.
...not all dogs are trainable, at least not in the way many owners hope. I could never train my Siberian not to runaway, not to kill livestock, or train her to bark an alert. A Curly Coated Reyriever we had never could comprehend being a watchdog. He simply wasn't trainable in that fashion. But he made a fine show dog and hunting companion. One of my current dogs, Crusty, isn't trainable for obedience "tricks", but he's a fine farm dog even if he refuses to submit to those smart obedience sits, downs, and recalls. 

Above, baby Noodles playing with his new big brother, Crusty. 

...never tolerate a biting dog. This is one that most people refuse to accept. Initially I refused too, making excuses for the dog. But I've known and worked with hundreds of dogs in my life and I've come to totally believe in this. The only acceptable biting dogs are those who are trained for a job that demands it -- military, police, protection, man killers (example, anti-poaching dogs), take-down style hunting dogs. Family dogs should never bite, or at least never get away with it. It's against pack rules to bite a higher ranking member. 

I could talk about dog trading for days. In fact, at the dogs shows we did indeed talk about training over and over, show after show after show....for years. So this blog really isn't a suitable platform to describing dog training methods. I couldn't do the topic justice. 


  1. I had the big breed of Samoyed 57 years ago. He was friendly, loved the car, and a great guard dog. He learned the standard tricks with a single instruction. Two weeks later he remembered them. As time went on he became more dominate, more aggressive, and wouldn't eat from his bowl on the floor, only a plate at the table. I thought it was facinating but a little scary. He couldn't be contained in the yard. He would break out everytime after displaying a reckless disregard for his physical harm. He was gone for a day, then 2, then a week. He would come home with a thick rope around his heck or a chain. I worried about him. I had to bail him out of jail constantly. Finally I moved away from home at 21 and my father gave him to a rancher. It was explained to me that he had to much "wildness" to be a family dog.

    1. Interesting story. I've heard similar tales.