Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dog Training

If you look over the topics discussed in the almost two years of the existence of this blog, you will discover little--if any--mention of dog training.

The reason for this is simple: In all the years that I've lived with dogs, of all the dogs that have shared my life, I have taken only one--Champers--to a formal dog training class.

Taking Champers to Dog School--he graduated with the equivalent of the Gentleman's C--solidified our bond and made him a good example for our second Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Britches, whose only formal schooling was Puppy Affection Training, before she came to live with us. We concluded that Puppy Affection Training did not include such rigors as "sit", "stay", and "down". But Britches was a bright imitator, and soon learned what "sit", "stay" and "down" meant, although, as with most Terriers, her execution of these commands was somewhat selective.

"I know what you said, and I'm taking it into consideration."

Only once did I institute a regular dog training class at home. It was for Portia, who was so bright and manipulative, I had to do something to channel her behavior into constructive patterns.

Portia loved our classes, caught on fast, and was food motivated, which really helps with training. Had she lived, I believe she had potential to be a Therapy Dog.

Bingley, who is not at all food motivated and whose frame of reference is a mix of innate Sighthound instincts and training for the racetrack, sometimes participated in Portia's classes--enough to know that "sit" and "down" meant that he was supposed to do SOMETHING--but couldn't focus his attention sufficiently to know exactly what was expected. He liked to be given a kibble as a reward, but was likely to wander off and leave it for Portia to gobble up as a bonus treat that rewarded her breaking a command.

Shortly after Magic arrived, I attempted a training class. Bingley brightened up, "sat" and "downed" without being asked to do anything. Magic, who had been accustomed to many people food treats, snatched his reward out of my hand before he realized I was offering it to him. Chaos ensued. Class was dismissed.

Back when my dogs were Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, I explained to anyone who cared to listen that Terriers were not bred to work WITH humans, but were Independent Contractors who performed tasks on on their own. I implied that, far from lacking intelligence of Herding, Sporting and Working dogs who invariably won obedience trials, Terriers were Independent Thinkers. Their obedience--when it occurred--was therefore more valuable, because it was deliberately chosen--not automatic. I don't think I convinced anyone.

From Terriers, it was a natural step up/down to Sighthounds. Yes. There are Greyhound Therapy Dogs. I have actually met a few. As I said, I believe Portia had the potential to be a Therapy Dog. But the average Sighthound has been bred not only to be an Independent Contractor, but to be very speedy about conducting its business. Most Greyhounds can learn basic commands. And if nothing is moving within their range of vision, there is a good chance that they might obey the command. But I would hate to have my life or their lives depend upon it.

This is not to say that Bingley and Magic are untrained monsters. They are both deeply attached to John and me, and, everything being equal, they want to please us. Treats are not effective rewards for them, but praise is.

Monday morning is their favorite time of the week. It's Walk In The Park Day With Franklin and Hattie and Odie and Marilyn!!! They pick up very quickly on the signals that Today is Monday. Excitement grows. Getting dressed becomes a challenge for me with two hounds monitoring my every move, trying to examine every piece of clothing I'm trying to put on, reacting to the opening of every drawer, every door.

"She's picking up her toothbrush, Bingley! I know that's a good sign!"

"She's turning on her hair drier, Magic! This is for real!!!"

Jump! Twirl! Circle!

Three weeks ago it all became too much. I was desperate!

"SIT!!" I shouted.

Bingley instantly went into "Down"

I praised him profusely.

Magic followed his example.

I praised her profusely.

Peace reigned until I started lacing up my walking shoes.

All I needed was a respite, not a miracle. I was deeply grateful.

The last two Mondays, they have voluntarily assumed "down"--at least for a while--as I am getting dressed. Two elegant creatures, perfectly designed for movement, lying as still as they can manage, watching me with hope and anticipation in their soft brown eyes--not because they want to be absolutely still, but because they want to please me.

They really are too sweet.

And I have the walls and furniture to hold onto as I make my way to the front closet for leashes and harnesses, with Bingley and Magic celebrating their release from unnatural stillness, celebrating the prospect of a Walk In The Park With Franklin and Hattie and Odie and Marilyn!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment