My first experience in a dog training class was in 1968 in Southern California. We were to teach our dogs to sit, stay, heel and come from ten feet away. From a Sit/Stay. That was it. A lot of energy was put into perfect heels (using leash jerks of course) and long Sit/Stays for no discernible purpose except blind obedience. Most training classes were based on obedience competition, as if family dog owners cared about perfect heel positions and long sit/stays. But an “obedient dog” was defined by “obedience competitions”. (For more history of training classes, see this interesting article about the evolution of obedience classes.)
That was then, this is now, and it’s not surprising that things have changed. 1968, heaven help me, was 49 years ago, when we fixed typing mistakes with scratchy erasers that tore the paper, had “party lines” on our clunky black phones and thought “app” was shorthand for a red fruit. Well, no we didn’t; no one ever said “app”.
But what HAS changed? I got to thinking about this when we decided to put Family Dog Training on sale. (My staff threatened me with leash jerks if I didn’t say that book is on sale this week, Sept 11th to September 16th. Whew, okay, I’m done with that. Chocolate all around.)
The two most significant changes that I’ve seen in beginning family dog training classes over the years are in methodology (positive reinforcement versus positive and negative punishment) and in curriculum. It’s the latter I want to focus on, because I find it fascinating how what we think is important has changed over time. I’ll get us started, please chime in with the changes you’ve seen over the years, either as a trainer or class participant.
CURRICULUM: First, gone are the exercises that are important in a competition ring but not to most dog owners. One of the first things I did when my colleague Nancy Rafetto and I started offering classes through Dog’s Best Friend was to drop long SIT/STAYS. We actually encouraged people, if they weren’t going to compete, to let their dogs lie down when told to stay. Why not let the dogs get comfortable? STAY is still on the agenda of the classes I’m familiar with, but it is usually taught as a practical exercise that allows you to keep your dog out of trouble for a brief period of time, not the road to an endless, owner-absent SIT/STAY for no reason whatsoever.
Of course we continued to teach SIT, as I think all classes still do (yes?), it being a great way to get your dog’s attention, to set up the next behavior and to teach impulse control. In my experience what’s changed is how it’s taught and when it’s taught. Most classes (most I hope?) use positive reinforcement, and either lure the dog into a sit or wait for the dog to do it himself. That’s a monumental improvement from pushing down on a dog’s rump, or worse, pulling on a choke chain until the dog sits and then releasing the pressure.
In the 1990’s we added practical exercises like WAIT (pause please), because so many of our clients had dogs who bolted out the door. Dashing outside puts the dogs in danger of being injured and the owners at risk of ripping their hair from their heads because they are late for work and Frankie is running laps around the cul-de-sac. We also added SETTLE (“Please go lie down somewhere and don’t bother me for a while”) and LEAVE IT or, “Back away from the dead fish.” (The words “For the love of God” are implied here.)
FOUR ON THE FLOOR Most dog owners don’t want their dogs jumping up on company, so this exercise seems to be just as popular as it was 50 years ago. Of course, back then I was taught to kick a dog in the stomach to teach it not to jump up, a practice that feels like a kick in the stomach just writing about it. Now, at least in progressive classes, the focus is on what to do, versus what not to do, and dogs learn that keeping all paws on the ground leads to food falling from the sky. The reinforcement is well deserved, because our poor dogs are desperate to greet us politely by licking our faces. It’s not their fault our faces are in the wrong place.) I should note, however, that I don’t think most people care if their own dogs jump up to greet them. (Do you?)
Surely an important exercise in all family dog training classes is still HEEL, although many of us think of it as “Please walk politely on a leash.” Walking side by side is inherent to our social behavior, yet so completely alien to dogs (see The Other End of the Leash), that it’s no wonder we have to teach it to dogs like a circus trick.
NAME and ATTENTION are a big part of many classes now, right? I don’t remember when we first started teaching NAME and ATTENTION in our classes, but I think of it now as a fundamental set of exercises that should be at the beginning of every class series. Aimee Moore, the owner of Dog’s Best Friend Training in Madison, WI (the Training Director when I owned DBF and co-author of The Puppy Primer) tells me that her classes now include a class called Focus and Control, for dogs who are easily aroused and need to learn to focus when distracted. (She notes that these kind of dogs are becoming more common in classes. You?)
TRICKS and GAMES Many classes add this important component into family dog training classes, and yay for them. Family Friendly Dog Training has a section on teaching Fetch, Take It/Drop It, and Tug Games as a way to teach impulse control. Play is one of the things that uniquely bonds people and dogs together, so why not teach owners how to play constructively with their dogs?
TYPES OF CLASSES: What a smorgasbord of classes there are now! Agility, Nose Works, Feisty Fido, Focus etc etc. This is one of the biggest changes I’ve seen over 50 years. If I remember correctly, there used to be a class for “family dogs” and the next classes were all about obedience competition. Anyone remember different types of classes 40-50 years ago?
CLASS STRUCTURE: Another interesting change is in the structure of classes. Most class progressions start with Puppy or Beginning Family Dog Training for 6 or 8 weeks, and then participants, if interested, take the next class in the serious. But here’s an interesting twist on the standard structure of family dog training classes, which I really like: The New England Dog Training Club’s Steps Classes set criteria for each level of class and allow people to progress at their own pace. Clients pay for 6 or 10 classes, and move through objective training goals at their own pace. Ex: Step 1 includes “Prompted eye contact for 2 seconds, handler smiling!” Step 2 includes includes “Down and sit on one cue, no lure.” Owners can repeat as often as they like until they are comfortable moving up. Love it!
Of course, the most profound change in training classes is in the methods being used–marking the desired behavior, positive reinforcement versus punishment, so any stories you’d like to share about classes you went to decades ago are more than welcome!
MEANWHILE, back on the farm. Just back from the Pet Partner’s Conference in Seattle, WA, and feeling optimistic about the state of Animal Assisted Interactions. I didn’t hear all the talks, but was again blown away by several of them. I’ll write about it more soon. Here I am honored to wish happy 85th birthday to Michael McCulloch, one of the founders of the field.
Today I’m between photos shoots with Nils Schlebusch, a photographer from New York who is doing a shoot for articles about me and the dogs (and my memoir, The Education of Will) for DOGS magazine in Germany. He’s great with the dogs, bless him, and has already taken at least 500 photographs. Lordy I hate having my picture taken! Too bad it can’t all be of the dogs. But he let me take a snap of him with the BCs. You can follow him on Instagram at @nilsschlebusch.
Maggie is getting spayed tomorrow (Tuesday the 12th). I wanted to wait until she was at least two years old, because many believe it’s better for dogs to have gone through a few heat cycles than not–see Dr. Chris Zink’s work on this). Then she came into heat early so I had to cancel, or sheepdog trials interfered, so I’ve finally found a good time to get it done. I’ll pretend I’m not a nervous wreck about it. I know…I’m a bit like the guy in the old jokes about childbirth: “Mother and child doing fine, husband sedated.”
I’m always so glad to hear that many/most dog training classes are moving in a more practical and compassionate direction. My first experience with obedience training was a disaster, and since I’ve mentioned it so many times before, I’ll just say that it was a VERY ineffective mishmash of old thinking (leash jerks and pointless, frequently repeated exercises, with no flexibility in curriculum to suit individual dogs/owners) with newer techniques (luring) that just didn’t work for us at all, all in a loud and chaotic environment. I could kick myself in the stomach (such a good mental image) for being stupid enough to stick with it for WEEKS when my gut told me it was all wrong the first day.
That’s one of the hard things about moving with the times. No one in my family growing up had ever brought a dog to obedience training, nor would it ever have occurred to them to do so. I signed up because it was recommended as something everyone could benefit from, stupidly failing to realize that one size does not fit all (and some sizes fit virtually none). Live and learn, I suppose, and thank creation that I had a dog resilient enough to recover from it.
I’m wishing Maggie the best of luck, and sending you some happy thoughts (we won’t discuss the embarrassing episode twenty years ago when I dropped off my cats for routine spays, calmly drove home, stepped through my front door and promptly burst into tears. Who would do such a silly thing? 😉 )
In any event, I’m so happy to hear about most of the common changes in dog training. And I wholeheartedly approve of almost all of them.
In answer to your question about caring whether my own dog jumps on me, well, as the owner of one big and a one very big dog, I must admit the answer is YES (and so would anyone who’d been on the receiving end of Otis’ “death from above” vertical leaps. Trust me, 150lbs of Great Dane coming DOWN on your head is not something anyone wants. Grown men foolish enough to encourage him to jump in play have found themselves knocked flat on the ground.
Even smaller dogs can hurt if they jump hard or are careless with their feet, though. Jumping around in happiness may be ok, but I’m not a fan of any dog big enough to do damage jumping on me. I’m awful about trying to enforce their owners’ rules with the little and light ones, though. I just don’t even notice it.
I will say, again from the perspective of a big dog owner, one element of modern dog training that I’m not crazy about is luring. I know it can be a great tool, and I’ve used it myself to very good success teaching tricks to very, very deferential Sandy, but I feel like it can send mixed messages to dogs, especially those inclined to be a bit pushy or grabby, that works against manners training. One of the reasons luring was such a fail with Otis (aside from his lack of food motivation) was the fact that he had just (rather brilliantly) mastered the notion that food in my hand/my plate/my grocery bag/the countertop was NOT for him to stick his big wet nose into. He’d learned to get rewards by maintaining a respectful DISTANCE from food not being offered to him, and certainly had not been encouraged to pursue if I moved an item away from him.
With a giant dog, especially, unless the dog in question were extremely shy and retiring, I don’t think I would choose any method that encouraged him to actively pursue food. I would (and did) spend more time than usual teaching the dog about maintaining respectful boundaries with humans when it comes to ownership of items and physical space, since the bigger the dog, the more impeccable his or her behavior must be to be safe and welcome in public spaces. A dog who can, with one smoothly timed gulp, easily snag an entire ice cream cone out of the hand of a full grown adult passing on the sidewalk with all four of his feet on the ground needs to have a better than average level of self-restraint around humans and food.
Regardless of very minor quibbles here and there, I am delighted with the direction that dog and dog owner training have taken.
I don’t know about 50 years – I feel that I have seen practically all those changes in the last 10 years! One other big change I have seen here in the UK is the professionalisation of training. When I looked for classes 12 years ago the prevailing model near me was a club, with a more or less experienced but unqualified instructor teaching the class. They were generally retired, old school, and reminded me of nothing so much as the ex-cavalry types who taught horse riding when I was a child. It was not only the dogs that got yanked and shoved… The shift was already under way – it was my experiences at one such club that sent me on a search for something better, and also taught me to sit in on at least one class before signing up. Now there are at least half a dozen well qualified, experienced professional trainers within 25 miles, offering a range of classes and individual training, and nearly all of them are members of APDT UK, which ensures methods are firmly reward based.
I think your curriculum is spot on – the things you list are precisely the things the dogs and I practice every day, simply because they are the things that mean life runs happily and smoothly for all of us. There are, of course, a few others that may not be easy to teach in a class – No Licking On The Bed and It’s Not Morning Till I Say It Is So Stop Staring At Me, for example…
I am sure she Maggie will be fine – anaesthetics are so much safer these days, and she is a young and healthy dog – but I am with you on the anxiety of waiting through a dog’s surgery. I cleaned the entire house when Sophy went in for a dental, and had to sit on my hands not to be on the phone every 30 minutes checking all was well. Turned out they had managed the whole job with just light sedation, and she’d forgotten all about it within an hour! Please post an update when Maggie is safely home and recovering – I will be thinking of you both.
You know we decided to wait for our two sisters to get spayed too because we wanted bones to be done growing. I researched it and for German Shepherds it was around 2 years. The comments people had about that (usually when I have not solicited their answer). Then we started having issues with one being more dominant than the other (and yes we admit we failed to research before getting them but we are dedicated dog owners and are doing whatever it takes to make this work-so far so good). When we started having the dominant issues, I asked vet after vet (some online and some local) and they all stated that if we had them spayed with those dominant issues going on, it would take away the calming hormones and there would probably be more problems. It calms the boy dogs down more when neutered but not so much the girl dogs. So I researched and researched and confirmed what the vets were saying. So we are not spaying them. We are very responsible and watch very closely when in heat so as not to have any pregnancy. Again you should hear the unsolicited comments I get. But we know that we are doing good for our family and that is all that matters. I can say I am happy because I usually find a vet who will let me sit in with my dog before they go in and after they come out and are recovering. It is a hard search sometimes but I cannot imagine being a dog not understanding why they feel that way and not having someone familiar around them.
Dog training the same way. We brought in a dog trainer from Ohio (he used to work in LA and works with the dogs that nobody thinks can be helped) and he confirmed that everything we were doing was good and added some stuff for us to use. When we tell people, we seem to get a lot of “positive dog training cannot work for those types of situations” but we know better. I love your stuff and your philosophy. I am originally from Wisconsin so I love hearing about the Wisconsin farm stuff.
Marguerite Harris says
I hope Maggie is doing well!
I have never taken my dogs to any classes, but I can comment about minding/not minding being jumped up on. I don’t mind at all, but when my husband was working he didn’t like it when our dog Sam, who was young then, jumped on him in the morning and messed up his work clothes (my work clothes are barn clothes, but he had to go to the city to work in an office). So I taught Sam to go to my husband and “sit up” in front of him and then Frank would take Sam’s paws and say good morning… it was quite formal and very cute! Sam seemed so serious about the ritual.
Sending best wishes for Maggie and you!
I’m fortunate to live near UF, which has done some significant research on dog behavior in the past few years. There is only one “well known” training facility which uses aversive methods (they teach dogs to work off leash with shock collars). Sadly, they seem to do well, but we have positive trainers in the double digits, so I take comfort in that. All of them emphasize using a clicker or marker word when training, which is great!
I’ve attended two positive trainers, for various classes (and dogs) including Basic Manners (incl. leave it, go to mat/crate, etc.), CGC class, STAR puppy class, Trick Dog class, and Rally class. I love seeing trainers use positive methods, but I’ve run into another issue–trainers are positive, but they give no “creative license” for the individual dog/human pair to decide how each taught behavior is unique to them.
I have a beautiful Kelpie cross who is one of those freak canines that enjoys obeying humans just because she realizes it makes them happy. She also tends to offer a lot of behaviors spontaneously during training to see if it gets a positive reaction. Our trainer picked on our sit because she waved her paw as she sat sometimes. I didn’t care, I told the trainer that, but her reply was that I shouldn’t treat my dog because the paw-wave would be permanently attached to the sit. We drilled the sit. The trainer also insisted that in a sit-heel my dog’s paws line up with my feet. I survived the class purely because I’d paid for it, but I did not go back to that trainer. I’m also happy to report I now have a dog that knows 30 commands, including a perfect sit, and as a separate command sit and wave.
All of this to say that while the positive training transition was necessary and amazing, I think family dog trainers may have a little ways to go before they completely let go of the idea that behaviors need to be “competition perfect.” I would advocate for allowing some “differentiated learning” for students in a class! But I myself am a special needs teacher, so I probably have a significant bias!
Jean Ruder says
Dr. Patricia, I enjoy reading your blogs very much as my philosophies largely mirror yours. I began training as an AKC Junior Trainer in 1969, yet still ever-present in my mind’s eye is the “hang-dog” look when using what I call “the jerk and startle method.” I began changing over to positive methods in 1978 with my emotionally sensitive GSD, Scuffy. Since then I’ve trained many dogs for various purposes, and instead of the rigidity of the old school methods I employ fun and positive methods. And, the dogs love it! We have come so far!
I recall that using treats, toys, and motivating dogs to want to do something was non-existent and would likely have been criticised . Marking was a spot on Spot’s nose-not marking a desirable behavior. We were never encouraged to verbally praise our dogs in a way they would understand. We said a “flat affect” type “good dog. Some dogs could not wait to be done with training, but today they jump (not up of course.lol) for joy the instant they know training is to begin. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment, and thank you for the good work you do in educating so many.
Except for training specialized skills, like a birddog or a sled-dog, (not usually done in a group setting,) I don’t remember there being anything other than obedience classes… And the words ‘trained’ and ‘obedient’ were synonymous.
I just teach the usual, basic stuff. I start by asking someone in the class to hand me something; illustrating how WE say each others name before asking for anything else. i.e. “John, please pass me that piece of paper.” And try to impress upon them that getting their dogs willing attention is the ‘foundation block’ for everything coming after.
We spend a lot of time on (the do’s and don’ts of) recalls, how to build duration for a behavior, and trying to get them to praise when their dog is getting it right. “What if you were gob-smacked in love with someone, and the only time they would say anything to you was when you had displeased them?”
Mostly, I try to convince them that the most enriching relationship they can have with their dog looks like a friendship. A sort of ‘George and Lenny’ (Of Mice and Men) friendship. Lenny needs to trust and follow George’s lead, because he’s the ‘smart one.’ But George (they) are their dog’s friend, and should think in those terms and treat them accordingly.
Friends can communicate with each other. So we spend some time on a dog’s body language, why they shouldn’t punish a growl, etc. And we throw in some easy (trick?) stuff like ‘touch’ and ‘spin’ – in an effort to convince them that with every human word they take the time to teach their dog, their dog becomes more invested in the friendship…
Henry had been our family dog for two years and we were doing fine when my parents decided I should take him to obedience class. It was the mid 1960s and I was about 8. I didn’t even last the entire first class. When my mother pulled into the parking lot to pick me up I was crying. “They wanted me to jerk the collar on his beautiful neck,” I cried. I was supposed to purchase a chain link collar for this purpose. I already had a biddable miniature poodle who loved being near me. Why did I have to torture him to keep him at my heel? My parents agreed with me. We quit the class. Henry continued to follow me around, but never in a perfect heel. He stood on his hind legs when my father said “biscuit time.” He played outside with”his” kids for hours. He rarely walked on a leash. His life was so different from my dogs today, but at least I made sure that nobody put a choke collar on him.
Jann Becker says
Kira sends her best to Maggie and says don’t worry, it’s only uncomfortable till your person gives you a treat that tastes a little funny, and she isn’t sure quite what they did in there anyway.
Last week she had a cyst taken off that was harboring a basal cell carcinoma. The surgeon took WAY large margins, so it’s gone. She spent 10 days in The Cone, and when little brother saw it he wanted nothing to do with “The Alien that Ate my Sister.” We were worried that he’d be hassling her, but he was keeping his distance! Maybe our Puppy Kindergarten should have included seeing another dog in the Cone.
I think a great thing to teach a dog is “excuse me” which means the same thing as it means when you say it to a human when trying to walk through a crowded area. I taught Jack “excuse me” purely by accident. I think that when he was a puppy and in the way on the couch, I taught it accidentally by thoughtlessly saying it just before I would put him on the ground. Being a fast learner, and a dog who does not relish a lot of physical contact, he quickly decided that if I said “excuse me” he would be best off moving before I moved him myself.
So now “excuse me” means “move out of my way please” and I can use it to move him from my seat on the couch if I want to take it (though sometimes this takes repeated requests if he is half asleep), or to step out of my way if I am walking across the kitchen carrying something. Basically it means “exit my personal space.” It is probably the only thing I did not teach with positive reinforcement, though certainly it can be done; he is sensitive to space issues, as are most herding dogs, and simply moving into his space was enough to make him move out of mine.
But it is a great way to keep dogs from becoming tripping hazards. And since many dogs get sore and grumpy when they get old, its good to have a “please vacate the area” command ready to go before dogs reach the age where picking them up to move them causes them physical discomfort.
Like “wait” it is a command with rather informal rules. As long as he moves away from me, it does not matter what he moves towards.
We took basic manners classes aimed at being able to pass the CGC. Since it was clear from day 1 that Ranger’s perfect job would be as a Therapy Dog and the CGC is a foundation of so many therapsy dog tests it was an obvious choice. I was lucky though and the class focused as much if not more on how to train a dog than on the specific behaviors. Learning how to train was the best gift the class could have given me.
Ranger came to us with great socialization but zero manners. His idea of the proper way to greet someone was to leap on them, knock them to the ground, and lick their face off. I was having a terrible time teaching him not to do this. He grasped the idea that knocking people over was unacceptable pretty quickly but so many people liked having him put his paws on their shoulders (once he learned to only use them for balance) so I wasn’t getting anywhere then I had a brilliant idea. I put it on cue–hug meant put your paws on their shoulders and you only get to do that if you’re asked. Then I taught all the neighbors that liked it that they had to ask Ranger for a hug. That was incredibly successful. One of my favorite memories is of a teen boy showing off for his friends. “This dog is awesome watch this. Ranger, give me a hug.” And Ranger obligingly putting his paws on his shoulders. Then all his friends had to get hugs and the teen couldn’t have been more proud if he’d trained Ranger himself. It’s a strategy I’ve suggested to several people. There are enough people that like it that putting it on cue is helpful for managing the behavior.
I empathize with your feelings about getting Maggie spayed. Even when you’re doing it for their own good you’re still putting them through surgery and recovery. That’s a big responsibility since it’s not like they can tell you what they’d choose or you can explain to them what’s going to happen or why. In a few more months Purrcasso the kitten will be getting neutered and I’ll feel like the worst person in the world for a few days then we’ll both get over it and everything will be fine again. All paws crossed for Maggie’s speedy recovery.
Kristin Luker says
What an interesting post. It prompts a question that I have had for a long time. My local dog training club, though it has many classes for family dogs, has super classes for competition. I’ve found them a wonderful way to learn to understand my dog (and myself!) Here’s the problem: my dog has a very good “heel,” with his right ear nicely aligned with the seam of my left pants leg, with his eyes fixed on me, ever alert for body language on my part that would communicate that we are going to stop, turn, or do a figure 8. But that command is demanding, and now that my dog is 10 and arthritic, I don’t think competition is in our future. What I can’t figure out is how to train what you talked about, namely a dog that walks nicely next to me and does not think if we are not heeling he is a free man. Oddly perhaps, we do have a “release” command–“sniff, sniff,” which means “smell all you want, I’m in no hurry.” But sometimes it would be nice to have a calm, relatively brisk walk together which is not a heel. (And if I could communicate that he is not to eat cat poop on our walks, that would be even better. ) My obedience friends can’t imagine why I would even want a casual walk command, and my family dog friends assume that because he has such a pretty heel, he must know how to walk nicely with me. Thoughts?
While I’m at it, thanks for the “Education of Will.” Terrific book!
Sending puppy hugs and prayers for a speedy recovery to you and Maggie!
The best improvement in training I’ve seen over the years is the emphasis on building the partnership and communication between dogs and their humans, instead of just “do X because I said so.” Learning what positive rewards motivate each dog is more fun and effective than one size fits all, dominance-based commands.
I’m also grateful that the local store which offers classes built a training room to keep distractions to a minimum. Years ago when I took my lab Scout to puppy preschool, classes were held in the dog food aisle, where he quickly became the class clown. While the other pups sat attentively with their people, Scout usually tried to crawl under the shelves where there were always a few stray kibbles. Looking back, we missed a great photo op in those pre-camera phone days: a group of happy, well behaved canine graduates, except for one little tail and backside wiggling frantically in the air as his front half tried to squeeze just a bit farther in search of food.
Now if only the trainers would start giving us humans chocolate when we work well with our dogs (“Good girl! Here’s some m&m’s!”) 😊
Jenny H says
The other things I incorporated into family dog training was ‘pound proofing’ and ‘child proofing’ (as well as ignorant adult proofing).
I saw an appalling temperament test being done here by the RSPCA where a nice little Staffie was lead away as a failure to be ‘destroyed’ because she had been wary of a strange adult coming towards her with a ‘walking doll’ that she was bending over and bopping along on the pavement. Supposedly this proved that she was afraid of children and therefore likely to bite them 🙁
So I bought both a lovely realistic toddler doll, and a baby doll, and taught the dogs in class to be interested in them, but to not touch them.
I also taught the dogs to allow strangers to hold their collars and attach a lead to the collar. To allow a fake hand into a bowl of kibble they were given. And to tolerate their own people to bop them on the head without reacting aggressively.
Also to allow their own people to put their hands in their mouths, play with their tails and look at the ‘rude bits’ and inside ears. To sit politely beside their person when a stranger, with and without another dog, came up to talk to their person.
The recall was to come away from free time (off leash) and allow the owner to attach the leash to the collar.
(And that being said, I now own two ‘problem’ dogs, that wouldn’t pass 🙁 Kennelosis probably in Mad Millie, and Sillee Sallee was extra timid from whelping on.)
I think the biggest change for me is that the number of dog training classes and that it is perfectly normal to attend training classes with your dog. Also puppy classes! When I was growing up and we had our first dog in the 70s, nobody had heard of puppy classes (with the result of many unsocialised dogs…) and dog training classes were only if one had a really badly behaved dog and needed help (and there was some stigma attached too I’d think…) – or if you wanted to do ‘serious’ guard dog training.
“Excuse me” has made me think of a few more behaviours that could be usefully taught in a family dog class – ones I ask for regularly:
Budge over – move over and make room on a chair, sofa or bed
Tuck in – get under a chair or table when eating out, or between me and the edge of the path when letting bicycles, runners etc pass.
Taking turns for treats – extremely important in a multidog household. Treats proved a flash point when my two recently stayed with a friend and her dogs, and a class would be a good place for “only” dogs to learn about turn taking.
Having fun – it may seem counter intuitive to need to teach this in a class, but I think for many puppy owners, especially those new to dogs, the anxiety to do everything right (food, socialising, toilet training, exercise, manners, etc, etc) can get in the way of simply having fun. I remember the day I realised this with my pup, and got down on the floor in a play bow. Much happiness ensued for both of us!
Jumping up – I have toy dogs. I taught them not to jump up. Innumerable family and friends holding hands and treats well above their heads promptly taught them the opposite. I now stand by to intervene if the dogs’ feet are muddy or the human is wearing smart clothes. And when greeting I sit on the floor or stairs, so they can climb up close to my face without too much scrabbling.
To Kristin L – “with me” is a good command for “heel – sort of”. I use it when making our way through crowds but not requiring a close, perfect, competition Heel.
My first dog training class (25 years ago) was taught using then-traditional methods (“choke” collar, verbal praise, etc.). No nightmare trainers, though. My dog was pretty bulletproof and seemed not adversely affected. The first two classes (through Canine Good Citizen certification) where open to mixed breeds, but higher-level training classes were restricted to purebred dogs. Classes were taught by the local AKC chapter so I understood the restriction but it still rubbed me the wrong way.
My first dog got stuck learning the “finish” command, where the dog would go from sitting in front of me, walk behind my back, and end sitting in heel position. Not a terribly useful command, quite frankly, but it was on the test. Trying to teach that command with a “choke” collar was just not working.
For lack of any other ideas I grabbed a dog treat and lured the dog around my back and into the finish position. When I rewarded the dog the look on her face was comical: “You mean THIS is what you wanted me to do? Why didn’t you just SAY so?”
Fast forward 25 years. Recent classes that we have taken used positive, rewards-based methods. This seems to be the most commonly-used approach by local trainers, although there is one company (national, with a local branch) that uses electronic collars in their training.
Best wishes for Maggie! Reminds me of when I had my first dog spayed. The vet said to keep her quiet for some time period – a week maybe, but it could have been a thousand years. The second or third day after surgery I came home and the dog did 20 laps around the living room at top speed. I figured if her stitches survived that, she was good to go.
Went to enroll my dog in classes this week and the trainer insisted on a choke collar, but said she doesn’t use the old methods to teach. If that’s the case I can’t imagine why she would absolutely insist on a choker, I told her I would prefer a martingale and she got an attitude with me. I withdrew and will be looking for another training facility.
Alice R. says
Like many here, I trained my first dog with the old choke chain method. Luckily, she was sweet, smart, and responsive so that didn’t last long. Fast forward 16 years, it took me a long time to get over her death, I found a “positive training” class for my puppy. I was however disappointed to see the trainer use a shake can instead of barriers when pups would not settle down next to other dogs. The trainer had 30 years experience, and the class was given at a very expensive and well regarded animal hospital. The last straw was when I watched the instructor help the owner fit a prong collar on a big clumsy golden puppy after the owner requested help. This owner did not come to most classes, did not really work with her dog when there, and twice brought her 9 year old daughter to work with the dog without any help. I was devastated for that poor puppy who never had a chance to learn. That disappointment led me to the trainers I have now: all CPDT-KA certified, many graduates of the Karen Pryor Academy as well. They are as good with people as dogs and are happy to troubleshoot any problem to find the positive approach that will work.
My classes have all the usual, but I would love to see classes that provide the weeks of practice in specific situations: greetings (or not greeting) politely, walking by other dogs calmly (feeling safe ignoring, not for reactive dogs), sitting at public tables and benches calmly. My vision would be lots of practice and supervision with the emphasis on finding a reading your dog and finding a routine that makes the dog feel safe, comfortable, and calm. That would, of course, look different for different dogs, but would form a base for the owner to work from. In a class setting it is so helpful to see dogs with all different personalities, see all kinds of approaches, and learn when to progress and when not to. The real work is always done outside of class, but one learns not only what to do, but what to watch out for. In social settings it can be easy for the inexperienced to make mistakes because it’s not something we watch dogs learning in a setting with good trainers.
Anne in Cali says
I started training my dogs in the early 70s with the Koehler books. Remember “throw chains”? And, yes, in rural Michigan all the classes I went to were based on obedience competition training. My last dog died last year at 15. She was a hyperactive, hyper-sensitive, hyper-intelligent, ranch type Aussie. When I read “The Education of Will”, I saw Chynna over and over. She listened and observed us so closely that she worked out the meanings of words and phrases on her own, so there was little I ever did to “train” her. But I took her to her first obedience class at 4 months because she needed socialization. There was a mini-sized dog that looked like a little German Shepherd who was very nervous and shy. At one session, the “trainer” was explaining a technique and suddenly grabbed that dog to demonstrate. No surprise, he bit her! She immediately “hung” the dog, and while he swung in the air choking and screaming explained that it was necessary to teach a dog that he can’t get away with biting. As we watched in horror (I am ashamed to say I didn’t do anything to stop it), Chynna inched her way back behind my legs in fear. She always kept one eye on that trainer after that. And that was only 15 years ago! The training I did with my two last dogs in agility did more to make them easy to live with than any obedience training I did previously (and in the 80s and 90s I showed/trained my dobermans and corgi in obedience up to utility level). “Wait” completely replaced stay, and left/right/go commands made walking enjoyable now that they were allowed to lead out instead of constantly reminding them to stay at my side. “Turn”, a command we used in gambles to get an instant reverse for a repeat of a high point obstacle, was also a very useful command when my Aussies were heading toward anything I didn’t want them to interact with.
I do not expect to ever have a dog again. I was spoiled by my last partner against living with an “ordinary” dog, and I don’t have the time or energy to train to the level that I enjoy. But I still follow your blog. It encourages me to contemplation and reminiscences. Thank you!
First off, thank you for the well wishes for Maggie. She was miserable the afternoon and evening of the spay, but thankfully perked up the next day. The day after she had horrific diarrhea and explosive vomiting. Poor poor girl, she had been in her crate and was curled in an appalled ball in the corner trying to stay out of the mess. No, I’m not being anthropormorphic, she is the most fastidious dog I’ve ever known. She cleans her wet paws off like a cat when she comes inside, licks away any dirt or grime as if it’s a personal offense to her body, and licks my face when I remove burrs that she can’t reach herself. But she is better this morning, thanks no doubt to taking her off one of her meds, and giving her nothing but rice, Metronidazole and Pepsid. Now we just have to deal with two weeks of not getting on the couch, no jumping up, and no sheep work for four weeks. Poor kid.
I’m loving the comments about class curriculum. What strikes me over and over again is the switch from what I’ll call “theoretical obedience” (ie, “finish your recall by turning around me and sitting in the heel position” as Bruce describes) to exercises that make help our dogs be the dogs we want them to be, and to enjoy it in the process. I love Alice R’s comments about classes that were even more practical–practice greeting others, dogs hanging out in public for example.
To em, and others (like me) who went to classes they wish they’d dropped out of earlier: I’m reminded of that old saying, “We train by regret.” Honestly, it makes me all gooey inside thinking of the things I’ve done I wish I hadn’t. I too went to a horrific class, and I might have dropped out the first night when the instructor ‘hung’ a Basenji until it almost passed out, but why didn’t I do more diligence in the first place? I know the answer–just GOING to class was a big deal. How responsible we were to be doing so! Here Here to the people like Mamocato4 who now know enough to drop any class that uses choke collars but not “old methods.” Sigh. There are classes nearby to me that put prong collars on puppies. Puppies. Good grief.
To Beth: I love “excuse me!” We say it to people after all, why not to dogs? Lots of other good ideas, including teaching dogs to alternate taking treats. I just use “Dogs, Leave It” and then say one dog’s name to mean “you get the treat” or “you can go out the door”.
And back to spaying: to chris, about “dominance issues” being worse after a dog is spayed, even after the age of two. I’d love to hear the research behind that. I have been convinced by Dr. Chris Zink and others that one should let a dog go through at least two heat cycles for both physical and behavioral health. I know there was research (in England I believe?) that found androgenized females were less aggressive to other females if they were allowed to go through two heat cycles. Is there other research (anyone) about physiologically normal females and their behavior after spaying? I will say I saw a number of client’s dogs who were extremely aggressive to other females when in pre-oestrous. That’s when I started saying “There’s a reason bitch is a dirty word.”
Alice R. says
Poor Maggie, poor you! I will never forgetting returning home from work to find my lab, her crate and most of the room covered in explosive diarrhea. I was (and still am years after she’s gone) haunted by how long she had been like that. We had been forced to crate her while gone after she began having seizures that medication prevented only for weeks before they recurred. I was very worried about her falling down the stairs, etc. I think she was over it as soon as she saw me and was clean. I’m sure that will bother you for a while. Feel better, Maggie!
Vicki in Michigan says
A comment on jumping up — sure matters how big the dog is! I never minded if my corgis jumped up, but a bigger dog……
My first house had a back door that opened onto a landing between a few steps down to the basement and a few steps up to the kitchen. My now-husband’s “shepherd/husky” liked to greet me at the top of those stairs by planting her front feet on my chest. While I was still on the stairs.
We had a few conversations about that, and she decided a greeting that may have been ok for a 200-pound over-six-feet-tall man was not necessarily ok for greeting someone who was 5’3″. Especially someone 5’3″ who was standing on stairs with her back to a nasty fall…….
There’s a newfy in my neighborhood who wanted to jump on me when he was just a baby puppy. I had zero tolerance for that — he was just going to be too big. I loved seeing him, but jumping on me? No. Better he not get into the habit of jumping on anyone………
Uyen Nguyen says
Dear Dr. McConnell and followers of her blog,
I came across a few news article regarding dog attacks, particularly caused by pit bull type dogs, and I was surprised that Professor Davis Benjamin Hart, professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine mentioned how these types of dogs tend to show no signs of aggression before striking. Is this true? I thought all animals basing on rational behavior and communication would show signs. It is such an alarming statement because he is a professor and an animal behaviorist and I feel like what he stated caused much harm to the public image of these dogs. Or do you find his statement to be more true than not? Anyone else have any thoughts or comments? I would love any insight and/or clarification on the topic. Thank you much!!!
Kelly Schlesinger says
My now four-year-old BC and I were having a devil of a time training when he was a puppy. I won’t bore you with the details, just take my word for it. Things turned around when we took a tricks class! No pressure on getting a “final result;” sometimes you get something better by accident; you and the dog are happy because tricks are essentially silly; you can concentrate on shaping, capturing and placement and timing of rewards. Even luring is not a dirty word – a good instructor will show you how to fade a lure. My boy still loves learning new tricks and performing the oldies for an appreciative audience. I wish everyone would learn tricks! (I would love to juggle.)
Kelly, tricks were just the, ah, trick we needed with our dog Phoebe, too. She was almost impossible to get to focus, so focus became a trick! She learned sit up and two paws and kiss and focus and go right, go left all before she learned sit or down or come. Touch and out became linked to come and wait and it all flowed together. It still took a long time to get her to link things and to sustain concentration, but tricks did seem to help her mind sharpen and they still do keep her alert almost 12 years later.
I remember scrambling to find new tricks to teach her. Now, she and Olive and we do tricks after every breakfast and every dinner. We love tricks!
However, I can’t juggle to save my life.
Awww poor Maggie! How frustrating for her and you! Hope she’s feeling better.
Interesting about her fastidiousness. Maybe it’s just my dogs, but now that you mentioned it my girls have seemed to care more about cleanliness than my boys. Meg would wash herself after every meal, as well as my hands and her brother Scout’s ears. Nowadays, Missy washes herself and “Mom’s paws” after meals like Meg did. Duncan’s on his own as far as his ears however. Maybe it’s just the goofy retriever in my boys, they don’t much notice if they’re clean or not as long as they’re well fed, having fun playing or snugglung with mom. Although they both learned “paw check” (stand still on the old towel by the door and let mom wipe your paws before romping around the house when the yard is wet/muddy) better than my independent minded girls. ☺
I took my first puppy to obedience class in 1992. Although we learned to use choke chains, I don’t recall any horrible treatment beyond the dismal leash-pop, but I do remember that we each were supposed to teach our dog a trick and show it off the last class. I wanted to teach my Boston Terrier to stand on his hind legs. One day I was going to give him a biscuit, and I held it over his head and wiggled it around and I was astonished — he immediately stood up on his hind legs and danced! “That’s so easy!” I gasped. I swear I glanced around to make sure no one had seen me do it and vowed never to do THAT again. It seems so ridiculous to me now, but I was so conditioned to believe that training your dog with food was B.A.D. What was supposed to be so bad about it, I don’t even remember!
I like the increasing emphasis on teaching tricks. It takes away the idea of obedience, and the inclination on the part of the owners to try to “stop the dog from doing it wrong.” There is a dog training school in California that styles itself as a circus school, and I think it’s absolutely brilliant: the handlers think they are teaching their dogs tricks, but they are really teaching them to sit, lie down, go to a pedestal, stay until released, go around a cone, come back to the handler, wear something around their neck (each of the dogs gets a fancy ruffled collar), work off leash around other dogs, etc. I can imagine a whole puppy curriculum that is “all tricks,” but in the end you have all the behaviors you need for a family pet. And they do it with style. My dream would be to start an “It’s All Tricks” movement . . .
My quest for training my standard schnauzer began 20 years ago with puppy kindergarten. I had read many positive training books but when we went to class it was the typical old school classes. He did not respond at all to this type of training and was such a rambunctious guy I knew I had to find something that worked and someone that understood him. In three years we went through seven trainers. One trainer even threw us out of a class when he was eight months old claiming “I can’t do anything with this dog. Just take him and leave.” I finally connected with a trainer who told me he could only come to class on a flat buckle collar. I was very apprehensive going but finally, this was someone who understood him! She changed my dog around in such a positive way and he became the best dog ever. He was running masters agility when I retired him from agility. I continued training him with her for six years and have trained all my dogs with her since. Her positivite training style lines up with your philosophy and techniques. As an aside, we went to a tricks class with a different trainer just for fun. In walked the same trainer that had thrown him out of her class three years earlier. She didn’t recognize him and commented to the group what a well trained dog this was and used him to demonstrate much of what she was going to teach. His behaviour certainly had nothing to do with her teaching style.
Dorte Nielsen says
I have tried to contact Patricia McConnell using the contact form on this website, but it simply doesn’t work. Only replies with an error message.
What is plan B/
Dorte Nielsen in Denmark
I started out training my own dogs in classes geared towards competition (and loved it – the classes described in the post bear no resemblance to my experience), then as an instructor I embraced “pet manners” for “pet people”, saw the results of this general trend (increasing numbers of unfocussed and reactive dogs) and am back to believing that a curriculum constructed around the behaviours required for a CD is the way to go. I think that when it comes to the curriculum for pet manners classes, the baby got thrown out with the bathwater.
Just because something doesn’t have an immediately obvious benefit in “real life” doesn’t mean the benefit isn’t there. The group sit/stay and heelwork are extended behaviours that are not self-rewarding. The huge mental effort required on the part of the dog to complete these exercises successfully in a distracting environment, including other dogs and people in close proximity, builds focus and impulse control, not blind obedience.
Attention on a verbal is necessary but does not equate to or compare with the real focus and engagement required for these difficult exercises. A down/stay and loose leash walking also do not compare to or substitute for these exercises, the down/stay precisely because the dog is able to relax and loose-leash walking because it is far too woolly in terms of criteria and engagement required (or not). The precision and concomitant splitting of behaviours demanded for competition-style heelwork is not meaningless; they actually make it very clear to the dog what is being rewarded and exercises the dog’s brain as it strives to achieve the criteria set, rather than being rewarded for any old sloppy offering, however happily it is offered. Leaders have the responsibility to set criteria that allow an individual to achieve his best as well as providing the guidance necessary to do so.
I’m not saying loose leash walking isn’t necessary. It is. But my experience is that teaching a focussed heel and the foundations for it lays the groundwork for loose leash walking. Teaching loose leash walking by itself lays the groundwork for frustration, unfocussed and reactive dogs, and management tools.
I’m back to including as many behaviours from competition obedience as possible, especially a focussed heel of some sort, into my pet manners classes because they are generally fun to teach and learn (motivational training reached competition obedience some time ago) and have a plethora of applications, direct and indirect, in everyday life. I teach how to build real engagement as opposed to just attention on verbal. I talk about how to gain trust in and respect for leadership. I never tell people how to live with their dogs but I do explain to them that the choices they make about this will affect the behaviour they get from their dogs and give them the information they need to make informed decisions and compromises.
I’m happy with my decision to “go backwards”. I’ve had feedback that dogs in my classes are happier, more relaxed and paying more attention after just one class. By the end of the 6-week session, even if they haven’t achieved quite the standard of the CGN test or anywhere near competition standard, pet handlers can walk with their often previously quite reactive dogs (including ones that spent the first two or three weeks behind a barrier to help them focus) past another dog/handler team with their dog focussed on them and in a calm state of mind. No headcollars or no-pull harnesses (they are banned in my classes). No cookies in sight (not banned but not in the hand and preferably not on the handler’s person). No leash jerks either. Just the games and exercises taught to me by the instructors in the obedience classes I took, and take, with my own dogs.
Bob D. says
Your post touches on curriculum, but there have been other significant changes in the world of dog training as well. Twenty or so years ago dog training classes were somewhat few and far between. Today there seems to be a trainer in every small town and one on every other corner in big cities. More people are seeking training for their dogs than every before. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it also means the dedication and seriousness of the majority of people seeking training is less than it once was.
People are taking dogs to classes because they’re “supposed to,” not because the “want” to. Their Vets encourage them to get training for the new puppy. The store where the buy food, toys and other dog supplies tells them their dogs need training (of course they’re hoping they’ll enroll in the store’s classes). Dog training TV shows also contribute to this implied requirement to train your dog. A lot of the people you get in a puppy class are there because they’ve been mind washing into thing the *need* to train the pup, not because they *want* to spend time with their pet. Class curriculum and topics have changed to target this new market.
Another big change is the number of people seeking help with behavioral problems. In times past a misbehaving dog would likely become a dead dog in pretty short order. Dogs were dumped, taken to the “pound” or put down if they didn’t behave in an acceptable manner. Non-kill shelters and rescues were unheard of. Today there’s a tendency to try to “save” the dog. People are more willing to spend time and money trying to “fix” a misbehaving pet. This sets up another group of people who’s dogs end up in training out of *need* rather than a desire to spend time with the dog.
For those people actually interested in dog sport competition, even that has been watered down a bit. It used to be you competed in traditional obedience, conformation (pretty dog), or field trials for your breeds intended purpose (bird hunting, waterfowl retrieving, herding, etc.). Those were your choices. Now we have all those plus: Rally, Agility, Dock Diving, Coursing Ability Testing, Tracking, Treball, Flyball, Frisbee Dogs, Trick Dogs, Barn Hunt and on and on and on. In the US you had AKC competitions, now you have AKC, UKC, NADD, NADAC, CPE, and many, many other organizations offering performance competitions. Traditional obedience lacks some of the flash of these other sports, it’s simply not as sexy. So it is just not as popular as it once was.
Now toss in the Positive Only/Force Free movement and “Animal Rights” activism and it’s obvious we have a much different dynamic in pet ownership these days. It is not about basic obedience skill having no value, it’s about business. Businesses are about making an income. There should be little surprise that training businesses are targeting the current market place.
Sending your beloved pet to dog training classes can actually be very difficult for some owners. To them, having to send a dog to someone else to be trained can seem like some type of failure on their part, like having to send their own child away to detention camp or something! In reality, many such dog training classes are very beneficial for the dogs and their owners as the dogs are taught how to be civil and social in a family setting, which is reassuring not just for the family but very calming for the dog as well. When a dog knows how to behave around people and other animals it’s not so put off by their behavior and actions and knows what’s expected of it as well.