05 November 2011

Dogs are not robots.

Of course this seems ridiculously obvious. I feed my dogs, they eliminate, they have personalities, they age. Of course they aren't robots. Each dog is a living, breathing, different individual. I have trained quite a few dogs already in my life. My methods have changed a bit over the years, but one thing is clear - each dog is DIFFERENT! I have success (or not) with any given dog because I learned how to adapt my methods of training and handling to suit each individual.

Why, then, is it somehow taboo to suggest that any given dog seen out running agility might be easier to train in some way than any other given dog? Let's say I observe "Sally" running "Bobo", and I notice that Bobo is a very nice natural jumper who seems fairly forgiving; he doesn't knock bars even if Sally is crossing right in front of the jump or saying something surprising while he's in the air. I think to myself - "I would like a dog like Bobo!". But for some reason if I say in public that Bobo seems easier than, say, my dog Seri - this is construed as insulting to Sally, as if I am saying Sally is a bad handler and Bobo makes up for it. As if I just don't understand that Sally is an amazing trainer. That Sally does jump grids with her youngsters, etc etc. You get the point.

But the truth is, some dogs really ARE easier than others. OF COURSE! They are individuals, just like every other animal on the planet. Some dogs will intuitively understand the concept of straightening up for a jump in order to turn tighter, some will never get it. This doesn't make them bad dogs or the handlers bad either, but it does make them harder to turn and more prone to knocking bars. Some dogs naturally have more impulse control than others. This is evident with things like start line stays and stops on the contacts. I admire dogs who stop on the contacts in the ring! Those who stay on their see-saw so easily. And of course the handlers have worked hard to train this, but the truth is, some dogs just have an easier time controlling themselves than others.

Some dogs, no matter who is training them, will never be fast enough to win Nationals. Some will be fast enough no matter who trains them! And then there's a lot of dogs in the middle, who have the potential to win if trained properly...

Some dogs will require motivating at a young age, I call these dogs ones in whom you must "install the gas pedal". Some will have plenty of motivation and will require lots of impulse control and deceleration work - I call this "installing the brakes". But then sometimes you get a lovely dog who comes with both gas pedal AND brakes, pre-installed! Strafe seems to be like this. Perfect! But if you had to install one or the other on your dog, no big deal! Train what you have, of course. But a dog who came with both is just lovely. These dogs more easily understand both ends of the spectrum - impulse control AND driving forward. Deceleration AND crazy tugging games.

If dogs WERE robots, we'd just order up the type we like, perhaps add some apps for higher speed or better turns, and be done with it. In the real world this would be things like training drills and even conditioning - but underneath all the personal add-ons each dog will always be an individual that you are building on. There is NO SHAME in admitting your dog was easy to train. Even easy to train dogs require a good handler to do well. In agility, timing is everything, and a handler with bad timing will not be winning too many large events, even with an easy dog! If you've got a difficult dog to train in some way or another, just appreciate what you are learning in the process of teaching this dog, and don't worry, plenty of difficult dogs have won large events with good handlers too.

I just hope that eventually the stigma attached to suggesting that "so-and-so has an easy dog" will fade - I don't say that as a way to disrespect the handler, it's really quite honestly a bit of jealousy. I think I finally have one of these mythical easy dogs, and I'm really enjoying it, and am looking forward to going places with him!

Click on the picture for a large version:)

So appreciate that dogs aren't robots. There's no pre-ordering. Every one is different. And while I'm not a big "Positive Thoughts!!!!!" type of person, I do think we learn something from each dog. They aren't teaching us, rather, it's what we learn from teaching them. 


Rita Berardino said...

This is just what I needed to read after a training session today. Thank you!!

Tori Self said...

Hah, I chuckled at the apps comment. Good post.

Tracy Carter said...

I have an easy dog. :)