Saturday, September 17, 2011

obedience training sessions lessons: part 1

as you may have read in my Versatile Blogger post, i am going to school to become a certified dog trainer. there's lots to discuss on the subject, and i'm going to write a series of posts about it, so as not to torture you too much all at once.

a lot of thought went into the decision to plunk down money for this school, but the idea was sparked from my change of heart about our obedience trainer for desmond. i had been posting the details of our sessions on the blog so others could benefit a little from our efforts, but i didn't think that was a good idea after a while. that's where i'll begin. 

when we started obedience training, i didn't know all that much about it, but i knew that my house was being destroyed and my dog was way too attached to me and my husband. we needed help.

by the time we ended obedience training, i was nearly horrified at the thought of what we'd just put ourselves and desmond through. with each session, i was growing more uncomfortable, but we were seeing results with the first commands, so i thought i was being too sensitive.

this is how things took a turn...

for our third lesson, we learned the down-stay. our trainer had us do the usual walk-around-and-sit routine a couple of times and then command desmond to lie down and stay on the third sit. sounds simple enough.

here's where i start inserting random pix of desmond, because i think he's cute and also because i don't have any photos relevant to this post.

the down-stay was simple, yes, but somewhat hard to watch. the way it works is that you tell the dog to stay before you tell the dog to lie down. meaning, you go through the steps from lesson 2 and then after you've got the dog in a sit-stay, you give the next command: down. it turns out the down command doesn't, in fact, have to be verbal, which is where it gets dicey for me. after the dog is in the sit-stay, you can stand behind him and basically stare him down; he'll lie down without ever hearing "down." to me, this felt like bullying.

our trainer told us that the down command is often the hardest to accomplish, because your dog doesn't want to be that submissive. i'm certain there's a slew of people (vets and trainers and behaviorists included) who very much believe that. i just don't think i do.

i've been doing a lot of reading about the new science of dogs, which sheds an entirely different light on our furry best friends, going all the way back to the domestication of wolves and what wolf behavior is actually like (as opposed to what it is currently assumed to be like).

many common training techniques are based on the assumption that there's a pack-leader mentality within the dog--a desire for dominance, a need for a chain of command so-to-speak. these ideas are based on wolf behavior, which has been passed down to dogs.

desmond, are you in there somewhere?

the problem with this is that the majority of wolf studies have been conducted under unnatural circumstances, namely in zoos, sanctuaries, or other places of captivity. more often than not, when wolves are found in these places, the wolves that are there have been "piece-mealed" together into a group. they come from different packs--which are family-based in the wild--and are forced to live together, which goes against the nature of how wolves live, work, and play. this setup causes stress and conflict for the wolves involved. it changes the way they operate.

probably not the best arrangement

does it make sense to use this forced, inaccurate scenario and its resulting behavior to explain or understand what dogs do and why? i've talked about it briefly before, but this is why dog science is so important.

when our trainer was demonstrating the down command for us, desmond was being extremely stubborn and doing all kinds of whining and crying. the trainer had to physically push desmond down to the ground. i know that learning obedience commands is good for des, and i know that he wasn't being physically hurt by the trainer (then again, he does have those wonky legs), but i never expected to see this, and i was taken aback. it took a lot of self-control not to yell at the trainer to get off my dog. this feeling goes back to my "i am toast" theory about becoming a real parent.

no place better than dad's lap. desmond is definitely not a momma's boy.

desmond was also not great at staying down on his first few attempts and had to be corrected with a leash yank, a "no!", and a dragging-back-to-whence-he-came. then you start over again in that same spot with the sit-stay-down process. thank goodness joey went first after the trainer was done with the demo, because i wouldn't have had the nerve to do any kind of pushing or dragging. by the time it was my turn to work with desmond, he performed like an old pro. still grateful for that, and still just a touch shaken by the whole experience.

should you ever feel like you want to cry during obedience training??

even the act of jerking the leash to correct your dog, which seemed somewhat normal to me on day one of training--since i was being told by a professional to do it--has become something that i think about and cringe. i never really felt comfortable about it and always felt horrible doing it in public (like someone would think i was abusing desmond), but i honestly thought it was what we were supposed to do. it made some sense to me that a dog would need to be corrected for unwanted behavior.

one of many shots we have of desmond up against the fence

the more uncomfortable i got, the more reading i did, and that's when i realized that things didn't have to be this way. there are less-abrasive ways to train a dog. i felt foolish and naive and sad. i also felt confused: why would any trainer not use positive reinforcement methods over punishment-based methods?

we still had two lessons to go, and we'd paid for them already, so we chose to finish out with the trainer. plus, we were still having so many behavioral problems related to desmond's separation anxiety--and the trainer swore he'd behave just fine if we got these commands down--our desperation had not subsided much.

unfortunately, things only got worse from there.

sometimes on weekends we let des join us in the people bed. it's very hard to get him out of it when it's time to get up.


this is a blog hop!! actually, this is my first time in the saturday blog hop, so woo hoo for that. today is a crazy day at home with contractor visits and hurricane irene-related cleanup going on, so it will take me a few days to hop around and see the other blogs myself. but i promise i'll be hopping soon!

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