Thursday, September 29, 2011

obedience training sessions lessons, part 2

here's more of the story about my training change of heart. if you missed my original emotional outburst, please see here.

our last two sessions were for recall and heeling/loose-leash walking. these were the things i was most eager for desmond to learn. his idea of a response when you say his name is to look at you and then stare blankly. also, he's turned into a crazed pulling machine on walks. that was particularly disappointing since he was incredibly well behaved when we took him on walks from the shelter for the weeks we were getting to know him before the adoption. i guess he's all overly confident and happy now, so he's looking to see the entire world as quickly as possible. what a jerk!

as for the recall session (lesson 4), there's not much to say. the process is the previous moves from the sit-stay, but then you look at your dog and call his name and back away. nothing all that upsetting happened with this lesson. OK fine.

for heel/loose leash training (the last lesson), there was an extreme amount of leash jerking involved, because desmond is like a rocket when we exit our property, and the leash jerk is how you're supposed to tell him he's doing something wrong.

it did seem to be working when the trainer did his demo. then, when desmond walked with joey, he stayed very close to joey's side and didn't pull. had desmond already learned to be scared of the punishment in a matter of minutes? seemingly so.

was he happy about it? seemingly not.

if you google for images of nervous or stressed dogs, you'll find stuff like this...

which is basically what desmond looked like during the session

his ears were back and down, his head was slightly lowered, his tail was down and stiff, his steps were careful. i asked the trainer, who was watching with me from our stoop, why desmond looked so sad/scared. he said that desmond wasn't scared but merely concentrating. i wasn't sure what to think, but i didn't feel like i believed that. now i feel pretty sure my dog was stressed, not focused.

when it was my turn to practice, desmond went back to pulling on the leash. the trainer kept urging me to correct my dog and just keep walking--never stop moving, even if i were then dragging desmond behind me. on turns, if i wound up stepping on one of desmond's paws, i was instructed to correct him, because this meant that desmond wasn't following the rules; it was his own fault his paw got stepped on and he needed to be taught that he should pay more attention to where his handler is.

part of me didn't want to do these corrections and part of me simply isn't strong enough to correct desmond and see results. i was doing such a "bad" job with the leash jerk, that the trainer was almost yelling at me at one point--telling me not to be scared to use more force. i felt horrible and couldn't do it though.

that's when the trainer decided to bestow a gift on me. that gift? a choke chain.

i felt even more confused and a bit sick. i had a lot of questions: could it be that desmond really needs such a thing? is it safe? can he hurt himself? can i hurt him? 

our trainer explained very carefully when to use it, how it use it, how to make sure that it's on correctly, and why putting it on correctly is so important. i was overwhelmed and somewhat alarmed but trusted the professional.

regardless, would any of this work when desmond saw another dog? in particular, the three dogs who live across the street and just down the block. we'd have to find this out on our own. this day was, of course, one of the rare times when the dogs weren't out in the front yard, so we couldn't practice this session in their presence and the trainer didn't get to see desmond go completely bonkers as he does over these dogs every day.

now, i'm kind of glad it turned out that way, because i can't imagine what this trainer would have done to desmond in that situation. (desmond has since become so reactive about these dogs that he is difficult to walk down our block even when the neighbors' dogs are not out. i'll get into that more another time, hopefully with video evidence. i have a bunch of photos to share, but you really need the audio-visual experience.)

so, we practiced like the trainer told us: go out and let him do his business first; put him in a down-stay for up to five minutes; release him; put him in a sit; then start your walk and correct anytime he's walking in a way you don't like. we did this once every day, as instructed.

in the end, were the sessions effective? 

yes, somewhat. desmond did learn sit/down/stay.

his recall while on the leash is only great if you're actively doing it as a "trick", but if we're on a walk and desmond is paying attention to something or has pulled out in front and you call him to come back to your side, you get no response other than maybe a head turn. his recall off the leash in our yard is hit or miss (if the neighbor's cat is anywhere around, forget it).

the boy still has trouble on walks with leash pulling, especially when we see another dog. or a person. or a cat. or a squirrel. or a plastic bag. or a truck. (we continue working on desmond's "failings" using other methods. we did use the choke chain for a couple weeks, but i did a bunch of research and decided to retire it.)

meanwhile, none of his separation anxiety issues got even slightly better in response to this training. there was a time right after it was all over that we swore his SA got worse. it was frustrating and we thought about calling the trainer back because he had given us a guarantee, but i didn't want to continue those methods. (since abandoning these methods--and changing some other things, too--he has gotten significantly better when home alone. we're still not at our ideal place with SA, but you haven't seen a Wacky Wednesdays post or anything like it in a long time for a reason.)

i'm left feeling like the training was a bit of a waste of money, but it did teach me a lot about myself and how i want to raise my dog.

more importantly, it lead me to the conclusion that i want to be a trainer. so that's how i've decided to look at it going forward--as an enlightening experience that's helping me forge a new path in my professional life that i wouldn't have predicted. i'm not going to feel bad about it anymore.

i want to be clear that i am not trying to insult anyone who teaches or uses these methods--which can absolutely provide results. i do apologize to anyone who may feel like i'm judging a large section of the dog-people world. what i'm trying to do is tell my story and express my feelings on it. caring for a dog is a very personal thing, much like raising a child, and each person's choices are only theirs to make. i am making the choice to use and, eventually, teach positive-reinforcement training, because it's what i feel comfortable with.

with all the advances in dog science right now, perhaps, by the time i finish school, there will be another theory about dog learning that will give us and even better training method.
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