My last post raised the question “when should one start training a dog,” and we’ve had a lively and interesting discussion about it in the comment section. Our conversation has raised, as good conversations often do, another issue that I think deserves attention: How do you define training?
Many comments have said that we are training our dogs the second we bring them home, which closely reflects my perspective. However, others have said that they “don’t start training until the dog is older, they just teach them “manners” (which is closer to Kelly’s perspective). One commenter said that her dog knew sit, leave it, polite leash walking, etc, but she didn’t start “serious training” until the dog was older. What a perfect example of how we are all define “training” in our own way.
On reflection, I find that I define “training” broadly, inclusive of all of our efforts to influence a dog’s behavior. Good training, to me, means all interactions that influence behavior, from actively teaching a dog to sit to managing an environment to prevent behavioral problems from starting. Others define it more narrowly, to mean the point in time in which one starts increasing their expectations of a dog, perhaps putting more pressure on him or her to perform correctly, and if I read between the lines correctly, using punishment if a dog doesn’t ‘behave.’
It occurs to me while thinking about this that “dog training classes” must carry an equal potential for confusion to the general public. This is not a new perception, look at how many puppy classes are called “puppy socialization” classes. And note the change from “Obedience classes” to “Training classes” from 20 years ago. (When I began in this field, they were ALL “obedience classes.” I remember deciding with my partner, Nancy Rafetto, to call the classes “Family Dog Training Classes,” and how radical that seemed at the time.)
And what then, is a “trained” dog? If we define “training” differently, we must be equally inconsistent about what we expect of a “trained dog.” Perhaps this is a good reminder to think some more about how and when we use specific words. I use the word “training’” often, but also use “teach” frequently, and like the lighter quality that I associate with “teaching” rather than “training.” And I suspect that I have a conditioned association to the word “obedience.” I hear that term and I think about the dogs in my first “obedience” classes being jerked around on choke chains and hearing people shout NO! in the dogs’ faces. And yet . . . I do expect Willie to be obedient when I use certain cues, otherwise he could never be off leash in the country, and I know plenty of people who have nothing but positive associations with that word.
What about you? What does “training” mean to you? Have you changed the way you talk about how you have “trained/taught” your dog? What does “obedience” mean to you?
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Still cold, will be around zero (F) tonight and windy besides. Most of the snow is gone so Willie and I can’t play frisbee, but that means we can work sheep as long as I can keep my fingers warm enough. We’ll be going to a friend’s farm this weekend to work on cross drives at the edge of his comfort zone (remember my 2011 commitment!). We’ve been working on it at home, but I don’t have enough land with the right characteristics to work him past 80 to 90 yards.
Soon we’re going to let the lambs out with the main flock. In order to do that I need to spray Truffles and Dorothy with perfume… they began fighting like Bighorn rams when I tried them back together a few days ago and I’m afraid the lambs will get smished between them. (If you were reading the blog this spring, you’ll recall that spritzing them with a strong scent eliminating fighting after they had been shorn.) The lambs need out though, so Dorothy and Truffles are just going to have to work it out. The lambs have been in the barn for 5 weeks now, and they need to get those little legs moving . And I won’t mind not having to fill water buckets 3 times a day after smashing out the ice. (The fun part is when the water splashes out onto your face when it’s wind chill of 10 below.) But mostly I want to watch those little lambs get to stretch and frolic. As long as they get enough food they’ll be fine in the cold, and both moms are giving lots of milk now. I will have to train the rest of the flock to stay outside while I let the momma ewes into a pen to get extra food, but that’s easy to do: “if you stay outside, you’ll get “extra food” too (just a LOT less!)
Here’s Jenna, a young mix (herding?) who is being fostered by a dear friend of mine, and is looking for a new home. She came over to play with Willie and I got this photo of her in the snow, all black and white like life is now, outside of the warm, yellow glow of the barn lights when the evening light fades and the sky and snow turn ocean blue.