Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine Day Thoughts

As you might imagine, a topic of discussion on the Glitterati owner list is training. Owners are attending training classes and of course, working on their own to shape good behavior in our sweet puppies. As a breeder and trainer, it can be hard to hear what puppy owners are doing or struggling with -- this is not a judgment but just reality.

When I got my first berner I was SO fortunate to start immediately with a very excellent trainer. She competed at the high levels of obedience I could only dream about, and so foundation work was solid, thoughtful and accurate. I learned to train a dog well -- not just to train the dog. Unfortunately, not all owners have good options for trainers -- as a breeder, that is hard.

There are pet dog trainers and there are trainers who understand the rigors of AKC obedience/agility/etc. -- there are good and bad of both kinds. A person who wants a family pet and nothing more needs to find a good pet dog trainer, but a person who aspires to AKC performance events should be very cautious about training with someone who does not actively compete (and do well) in the higher levels of performance events.

And so the first thing an owner needs to decide is goals. If the goal is a well mannered pet, then a good pet dog trainer is perfect. But if the owner aspires to perhaps one day compete in obedience, a pet dog trainer will set you back big time unless you go in willing to modify the program to meet the needs of the future competition dog.

I taught pet dog training classes for an excellent program, and I have helped people who have bigger dreams. The most significant differences are pace and precision. Pet dog classes go through things quickly and therefore teach sloppy exercises. "Isn't a sit a sit?", you might ask -- oh no, it is not. You would never know this in a pet dog class but if you train with someone who knows about competition and let that person know about your own obedience goals, you will learn that a sit is not just a sit.

On our website ( are training articles, including one that covers some basic exercises for puppies. It is good for puppies to attend classes, but primarily for the socialization. If an owner thinks s/he might want to do obedience someday, then all exercises taught in the class should be modified. Specifically, the owner should go at a much slower pace, breaking down each component of the exercise and making each of those parts 100% solid before layering the next component.

Let me give you an example -- recalls. Some classes teach the dog to come and then sit directly in front of the owner -- I see this as separate exercises with lots of tiny components. The "come" part needs to be fast and immediate -- that takes some training all by itself. The "front" (sitting directly in front of the owner) needs to be straight, tucked and the dogs needs to look up at the owner -- each of these things is its own exercise. And so what might be taught as one exercise in a pet dog class, I view as at least four separate exercises that need to be trained separately before they are ever put together. I could say this about every exercise taught by a pet dog trainer.

And so puppy owners are cautioned to go very slowly, and to get accuracy at each baby step of the exercise before moving on. Further, puppy training (and adult dog training!) needs to involve at least as much playing as training -- play is a great stress reliever, and it keeps training fun for a dog.

And so what should a puppy learn? Well, there are all kinds of things a puppy can and should learn -- and they are learning ALL the time, whether we are involved or not :) Twelve week old Sydney is learning house manners and fast, happy recalls. I am about to start tracking with her, and will share those sessions on YouTube. She is learning to be a show dog, and to walk nicely on a leash. I am teaching her that it is fun to interact with me, and to play tug with me.

Five month old Zoey is tracking very well. She is also learning to be a show dog, and her recalls are excellent. She knows sit already and I can lure her to a down. I will soon start "stay" with her -- that is hard exercise to expect a younger puppy to master, and trying results in all kinds of failure -- I train for success, and not failure and so I wait until a puppy is developmentally ready for success in an exercise. Zoey is also mastering the attention game -- this requires a dog to look at my face no matter what distraction comes along.

Asia is 18 months and she knows that attention game well. She also has a nice sit, down, stand, stay, come, and baby pieces of a front and a finish (return to my left side). Her show dog skills are superb, and she already has a tracking title and is now working at advanced levels of tracking. What is Asia not yet doing??? HEELING -- this is not a baby dog skill. I am just introducing heeling to Asia -- it will be months before I consider her heeling good enough to show.

There is no rush and rushing a dog results in stress, which is one thing that can sink a team faster than about anything. A stressed dog performs poorly and is inconsistent, and it is also very sad to watch a stressed out dog in the ring. And so I go very slowly, making things as perfect as possible before we ever step in the ring. I want my expectation to be that things will go very well, and to be surprised if something goes wrong.

And so train your puppies (and yourself) but think about goals and about normal puppy development. Liz shares that Tara (Geneva) is a Land Shark -- thank goodness she is a normal puppy! Redirect undesirable behavior and do not allow a puppy to rehearse what we do not want to continue. When Sydney starts grabbing my pants, I just stop -- she lets go, I step ahead and reward when she does not grab again. Remember -- this too shall pass. Puppies quickly move through their developmental stages, and the problems of yesterday are gone with that adorable baby, replaced with a gangly adolescent who has new issues/concerns that need addressing.

This week I have been really struck with how hard it is to accept that puppies and dogs I breed are not all being trained and raised by me. I have to let other people and other trainers raise these puppies, and it is hard, even though the owners are wonderful and well-intentioned.

I am in Utah this weekend to celebrate Valentine's Day with my wonderful husband, and also to celebrate my sweet daughter's birthday. Today Cadi runs in an agility trial -- our first since last summer and we are so not ready :) Sydney and Zoey are here with me, and the rest of the dogs are in Montana with Galen. Today's pictures are just a few I took during the past week.

Happy Valentine's Day -- I hope you let your sweeties (two and four legged) know how very much they are loved and appreciated.

1 comment:

  1. Finding a trainer that understands your goals, your dog and is willing to work with you as a team is a quest. So is training your dog. I have learned a lot from each one of my dogs, but the biggest lesson of all was patience. It takes a lot of repetition, patience and time to train a dog for competition. The biggest reward is the journey and the bond it creates.