Recently Jean Donaldson presented her seminar Cutting Edge Dog Training in Sharonville, Ohio. Saturday's topic was “Improve Your Training Skills” and Sunday's was “Improve Your Dog's Training Skills.”
A great instuctor, Jean explained things with humor and excitement. Her energy was contagious. Her love of dogs and committment to training was apparent.
Jean said that a dog should be allowed to be a dog. She said that many of today's problem dogs are a result of their owners trying to make them something other than what they are. For instance, herding dogs are going to herd, it's in their genes. She also said because of television and movies, the average dog owner has an unreal expectation of his dog. They think their dog is faulty if it doesn't react to or do things like Lassie. People need to understand that the dog performers are made up like the human performers, that they are coached, that many takes are given to get one correct scene, and that in most cases multiple dogs are used.
Jean said the difference between an okay dog trainer and a great dog trainer is the ability to get the dog to pay attention and respond willingly. She said she believes that although some of this ability is part of the trainer's personality, many things can be learned to help a person become a better trainer. To illustrate her point, she showed a video tape of different people training a dog for the first time and pointed out the differences between the trainers.
Jean also said that most trainers expect a dog to obtain perfection much faster than is actually possible. She said not until you have trained sit into the six digits (at least 100,000 times) can you begin to feel confident that your dog will sit immediately, every time, under any circumstances and in any place. She also stressed several times during the seminar that training only increases the probability of a correct response; there is no perfection. She said that when a dog makes a mistake, it is beneficial to the training process because it creates good communicaiton between the dog and the trainer. She said that some people take the dog's mistakes personally (the dog isn't doing this because it doesn't like or respect me), when in reality the dog hasn't learned the behavior yet. Many people do not understand that the dog cannot generalize; it needs to practice the same thing in as many possible places, at as many different times, with as many different distractions as possible before you even begin to count on the response.
Jean believes in using food, toys, and the dog's desires for rewards for training. She commented numerous times that people always feel the need to quit using food for training long before they should. One of the main points of her talk was that it takes a good deal longer to train effectively than people think it should.
She gave the following reasons why a dog will respond incorrectly:
Jean also talked about aggression. She said dogs are aggressive when they are not comfortable with whatever is happening around them. Some dogs will choose to flee, some will choose to fight, and some will flee if that is possible, and if not, will fight only as a last resort.
Dogs are aggressive with other dogs because they have not been socialized with other dogs and are not fluent in dog greeting skills. She recommended introducing the dog to a dog who is friendly and fun for other dogs and allowing a relationship to develop. Then do the same thing with another dog and then another. She said the dog may never greet all new dogs well, but will make progress. Dogs who have a hard mouth and no inhibition for biting should be socialized by someone who is used to dealing with these kinds of problems.
Dogs are aggressive with people because they cannot cope with the moment. Some dogs can handle many different circumstances, but when several happen at the same time, a snap or bite results. Jean's reccomendation is to socialize the dog to each thing and build up the tolerance. Then add two together and work on those and continue until all together there is no longer stress to the dog.
Jean has written Culture Clash, a book which explains her views on dog behavior and training methods. If the book is any way near as enjoyable and informative as her seminar, it will be worthwhile reading.
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