British Judge offers extensive insight into all forms of dog training, from basic obedience to spatial awareness, field work, bite work and the mnemonic HIRE.
DOG TRAINING: CORRECTON NOT PUNISHMENT
By Graham Mabbutt, author of A Passion for Dogs, A Journey of Discovery
Since dog and horse ‘breaking’ went out of the window it has generally been accepted by those who work with animals, that behavioural problems are more often than not the result of very early age experiences over time, and are made rather than born. This applies to all mammals, proving the importance of acquiring a wide range of knowledge through environment and nurturing.
Puppies are essential fixed for life as early as forty nine days. From species to species instincts vary. How could it be otherwise when some are prey and others flight animals? It is only when puberty is nearing completion at about 14 months of age that reaction to stimuli in an assessment can determine true dominance based on confidence, flight reaction, and ability to forget an unpleasant experience.
In all mammals, mutual respect and success in training is achieved by handling and cooperative teaching, not by fear or violence.
Regular quality free time in simulated hunting sprees with their handler in open country is all important for dogs doomed as they are to modern society in a concrete jungle. On these walks whilst as always one must never nag, but make sure the dog keeps up with you, calling him from time to time to walk sometimes tight to your left hand side, at other times two paces behind. Best of all as a special treat having dropped an article with the word “No” for him to ignore until after two or three minutes of walking, then to make the retrieve with verve and delivering to hand in the exercise known as ‘Seek-back’.
Interesting to note how an intelligent dog with spatial awareness will make his way unerringly across country to the exact spot where the ‘retrieve’ article was dropped, whereas a dog with pronounced tracking instinct will work it out by retracing footsteps by scent.
Attempted correction through punishment combining violence all too often can be seen in ‘Sport’ training.
‘The Long Down. The violence I speak of with the handler standing beside the dog is perpetrated when the dog, on making the slightest movement, is immediately “corrected” with a snarl of the command “Down” often hurled to the ground to resume the exact position of the exercise.
The Retrieve Exercise. The dog with jaws clamped tight to retain and shake the article, growling, trained for aggression, as encouraged since puppyhood with the aim of demonstrating through tug-of-war the strength of bite and will to win required for ‘Sport’. Tenacity combining fighting instinct heightened by pain-induced aggression, considered by many to be “Highly desirable good character”.
What folly! What is to be done in these and other instances where negative reinforcement compounds the problem causing the dog to lose both trust and confidence in all humans? Discontinue the practice and vow never to use it again.
Never attempt remedial training whilst a dog is frightened of you, or is anxious about what you are doing or may do. The most obvious sign of anxiety is licking of lips.
As in all cases where teaching has gone awry, in a different place at a different time, and when you are calm and composed with a smile on your face and kind words on your lips, go back to the basic steps of the exercise introducing play regularly and remembering shared enjoyment is more important than success. Hasten slowly, always ending with the dog showing desire to continue. “One day soon we will play this marvellous game again” is in effect a promise to the future.
Wise trainers remember the mnemonic HIRE. H for happiness and habitual. I for incremental, increasing regularly in small steps. R for ritualistically, adhering to well defined ritual. E for mutual enjoyment.
Daily utilising the top of a sturdy steady garden picnic table as a teaching/training aid, such a raised viewing position becoming a haven of security as is enjoyed by all prey animals and where mutual respect between dog and handler will be restored.
If the dog does not jump readily, as the first step on a lead walk him forward and with the command ‘Up’ via one of the side seats teach him to gain the table top to stand relaxed whilst you, with kind words and a smile on your face, talk to him/her as you would an intelligent child.
Continue this routine daily until such time as you judge he/she looks forward to what is ‘time out’ together. Incrementally moving on to gentle grooming with your fingers over his entire frame saying as appropriate, ‘Ears’, ‘Neck’ ‘Feet’ ‘Tail’, etc. Then on to moulding into and naming the three positions of ‘Stand, Sit, and Down’.
When these three positions are achieved on naming and the dog smartly and gladly remains there for several minutes, the time has come for the dog off lead to jump with alacrity at the command ‘Up’ to the table top to stay there enjoying learning to learn, no longer confused. Remedial training can now go on apace remembering to habit form often.
With the dog on the table at the ‘down’ and the audible command of “Stay” or “Wait”, and combining the visual command of stepping off with your right foot (one steps off with the left foot when you want the dog to go with you.) begin with taking three steps to the side, your complete attention on the dog, and returning to the dog after a pause.
Until this habit of absolute immobility is established, the dog must never be recalled when left to stay. His release is only on your return and after a pause. Should he move, swiftly return to him and in a stern but kind voice chide him at the same time quietly moulding him firmly into one of the three positions in which he was left. Do not raise your voice, he should be taking on your calmness. In this way your dog will come to understand that even if the heavens fall (!) no movement is permitted until your return.
With the dog at the ‘Wait/Stay’ and sitting on the table, walk out some ten paces throwing a small gun-dog dummy obtainable from any gun shop to the ground in front of you. Return to the dog and with an excited, “Fetch” send the dog forward who through his possessiveness and hunting drive will bound forward to pounce and seize it. As he does so point to the table commanding “Up” which by habit he will obey. Relying on your adroitness at the same time as he reaches the table-top, sharply command “Out” grasping his leather collar with your left hand securing the dummy with your right to effect a release. The dog has his attention half engaged in the jumping, the retrieve complete, the jump a reward in itself. Nevertheless praise him roundly. Do not repeat the exercise! Refusing to play this marvellous game except at a future date and when you choose is an incentive to retrieve.
Indoors, ideally when you are seated at a leisure break with a tidbit beside you, proffer the same gundog dummy to the dog as he sits beside you. When his nose touches or he grabs the dummy sharply command, “Out” at the same time rewarding with the tidbit for compliance. (Remember the word ‘incrementally’.) On the next day and succeeding days repeat the procedure until the dog takes and holds for upwards of a few minutes any type of retrieve article at the command “Hold” and will it on the cry of “Out”, such an exercise being a prime example of positive reinforcement for food.
Following on to this, provide the dog with a bin or box in which to keep a variety of retrieve articles such as keys, a glasses case, a slipper, leather wallet, etc. which the dog likes to carry. Site it beneath a mantle shelf on which to place a titbit. Sit the dog facing the toy bin and taking an article from the bin command ‘Wait’, an exercise by now he well knows. Name the article with some show, which could be, ”Wallet” followed by walking into an adjoining room to place it first where he will prominently see it, later on in a place where he will have to select or use his nose, to make a nominated retrieve.
Repeat the name, “Wallet” sending the dog to ‘Fetch’, on his return directing him with the words, “In the bin” to stand poised above the bin and below the titbit, him holding the article. Give his collar a little shake quickly followed by the now understood cry of “Out’ to cause a release. As he becomes more proficient he should place rather than drop the article in the bin. You will be surprised how soon he recognises articles sufficiently by name to make a selection.
If your dog is trained for ‘sleeve’ work and has a tardy release if a release at all, combine with the helper when the dog still locked on the sleeve - the both of you together in unison shouting sharply “Out”, at which the dog no matter his tenacity (as the result of the exercises described) understanding thoroughly what is required, obeys instantly.
I now come to aberrant behaviour in a vehicle which can become so obsessive especially in police dogs that travel regularly in vans. With only one dog in the van, sit facing outward with the crate and rear door open, the dog contained with his head on your shoulder. Choose a situation when there are a number of passing dogs and where passers-by stop to speak. Should the dog bark, or worse, growl and hackle up, chide him firmly with the word, “No”, a word that should bring about instantly the correct response.
Take every opportunity to do this until the desired behaviour becomes a habit. As well as in a private hatch back or rear not separated by a dog guard where the dog habitually travels, where even in motion, the negative reinforcement of “No” should bring about a quiet travelling companion.
Returning to the main thrust of this article which is, if heavy discipline, violent punishment is used at any time it is an unpleasant experience which may change personality for the worse as well as cause loss of confidence in all humans, mutual respect and trust difficult to regain. This is particularly so for service dogs who at about ten months of age suffer the trauma of losing their settled happy environment and family where they have been ‘walked’ to go to a handler who possibly does not know dogs and believes what he is told such as “Sort him out. Show him who the boss is.”
Finally, in my eighty seventh year, I give you ‘The German Shepherd Dog - the working dog without peer’. In doing so I remember all those who have graced my life, Mark, Declan, Utzen, Titan, Drover, Demon, Schafer, Dietrech, Canto, Derby, Darcy and Dodi who lies at my feet as I write.
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