Lead By Example: The Dog Training Double Standard
For this blog post, I’m addressing an issue that I see in my agility classes every week…the dog training double standard. I’m talking more specifically about situations where people expect certain behaviours of their dogs, but can’t replicate those behaviours themselves.
It’s my opinion that for a dog to truly reach their potential, the hander attached to the leash has to be willing to give as much as they want to get back. Way too often, this doesn’t happen, and we are left frustrated wondering why our dogs aren’t living up to our expectations.
Here are a few common examples of the double standards that I see in training:
- Focus: We often expect 100% focus from our dogs even when we aren’t focused on the task ourselves. Is it really fair to expect your dog to stare adoringly at you while you talk to your friends or instructor and pay them no attention? How about while you focus on the course trying to figure out which jumps you are supposed to do, but not noticing what your dog is doing? If you want your dog to be confident and focused, make sure that you are leading by example. I know that I myself cannot stay completely focused on my dog for an hour class, so I make sure that my dog is either crated or tied to something. That way we both reserve our focus for when it matters most!
- Consistency: We tend to expect consistency on our start lines, contact behaviours, etc. but are WE really being consistent as trainers/handlers? If you make your dog stop on the contacts in practice but not in a trial, why shouldn’t your dog follow your example and figure that that leaping off the contact is the new expectation in a competition? If you decide that running the course is more important than reinforcing your start line then it stands to reason that is exactly what you are telling your dog. If this is okay with you by all means continue to do it. But is it fair to blame the dog for doing what you have taught them to do? Afterall, if the environment is too exciting for you to maintain your own criteria as a handler, then does the dog really stand a chance?
- The Right Attitude: We’ve all had moments where we didn’t feel like training. I’ve learned the hard way that there is very little point to training when I’m in a bad mood, since it usually ends with both myself and my dogs being very frustrated. If you’re not in a positive headspace to train, then most likely your dog isn’t going to be either. Keep in mind that a high stressing dog like my border collie always wants to do agility, so he will gladly do equipment. He will, however, show his stress towards my mood by moving away from me on course…usually taking the back of jumps when the lines seem obvious to the front side. My sheltie Dice on the other hand, will usually just refuse to even enter the agility field if I’m in a bad mood. Of course this tends to lead to instant frustration for me (talk about a negative cycle!). My suggestion? Take some extra time before you train to work on getting yourself in the right mood.
Here’s a scenario some of you might be familiar with… you get stuck in a traffic jam on the way to class and arrive late to find everyone already walking the course! In a rush you grab your dog and try to run the sequence flustered and unprepared. You forget the course numerous times, and your dog goes off sniffing in between. Doesn’t sound like much fun does it? Here’s an alternative scenario…instead of rushing to run the sequence you take your turn just playing with your dog and doing some one jump work where you know both you and your dog will be successful. You opt out of that particular sequence and join in on the next one feeling relaxed and confident in your ability to remember the course. Now which scenario do you think you and your dog will enjoy more?
Now I can honestly tell you I’ve fallen victim to all of these double standards at one time or another. It took a dog like Dice who absolutely would not work through them to teach me these valuable lessons. And I haven’t gotten it perfect yet…I still get frustrated with my dogs when they don’t focus or when a training session doesn’t go well. It usually hits me later on just how unfair I was being at the time.
I’m only human afterall.
But our dogs are just that.
They are DOGS.
NOT agility robots.
They react to stress, make mistakes, and get distracted. We aren’t perfect and neither are they. Don’t they deserve to be able to have the same expectations of us that we have of them?
So next time you go into a training session or competition, ask yourself if you’re truly leading by example.
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training