This article first appeared on the e-mail list, obed-comp. Jane gave
Heartland Dog Training Club to use it in our newsletter. It drew the most favorable
comments of anything we had ever printed in the newsletter. She has graciously given
permission to share it on this web page as well.
Many people have written to me mentioning that they are training their first dog, and wanted to know how I took Murph from Novice A all the way to an OTCH.
I hope you understand that there was no single "magic" technique that brought us success, so there's no simple answer to that question. I realize this is a frustrating answer - I remember asking people with nice dogs how they got the dog's attention or trained certain exercises, and was always discouraged when they couldn't really answer me - but now I understand from training Murph that a short answer really doesn't do justice to the years of hard work, where sometimes moving forward meant taking one step back first. Furthermore, what worked for Murph might be totally wrong for your dog - all dogs are unique.
Still, there are a few things I learned that really had an impact on me over the past few years. Those of you for whom training comes naturally can just skip this, but for those like me (I knew nothing about training when I started), read on ...
Find a Good Instructor
A good instructor isn't necessarily someone famous or the most popular person in your
area or has the most titles (although all that may be true). A good instructor is someone
whom you admire and respect, whose training style makes sense and is one that you're
comfortable with, who has students who clearly enjoy what they're doing and enjoy
working with the person (I know people who go to instructors they're frightened of - I
just don't get it!). I'm also a firm believer in private lessons, at
least on an occasional
basis. The luxury of having someone's undivided attention really can't be beat, and since
Murph always learned things at a different pace than the rest of the class (we took
obedience classes for 1-1/2 years before I discovered private lessons), group lessons
were always a source of frustration as we would fall behind the group.
Become an Information Junkie
Electronic obedience mailing lists, seminars, books, videos - there are so many
wonderful resources for learning more about this sport and about training. I learned so
much by stewarding at trials, and by watching top handlers and how they warm-up their
dogs and interact with them in the ring. One caveat - there's so much info. out there, but
please don't just started trying all sorts of things on your dog - you'll
make him crazy!
Sift through and pick out only the ideas that you think match your personality, your
dog's temperament, and your needs. It's not just training hard that gets
results, it's training smart.
Don't Be Afraid To Back Up
... or even re-train something from the beginning. It may seem like you're taking the
long way, but sometimes backing up, breaking down exercises into teeny-tiny pieces and
just working on those components or retraining from the beginning are really the fastest
Make the Ring A Happy Place
When I first started going to matches, I'd act like it was a real show and Murph picked up
bad habits. Then I was told to use the match to correct him, and Murph learned that the
ring was a scary place to be. To make things worse, I used to get really nervous - one
match judge helpfully told me that I walked like I was in a funeral march! The end result
was that Murph viewed the ring as a scary place where the zombie that replaced his
mother would correct him.
To recondition him to think better of the ring, I took him to every fun match I could get to and played in the ring. I still go to as many fun matches as I can - we play less, but still cut loose a bit more than I can at a trial. I want him to feel comfortable in the ring, and taking him to lots of places for run-throughs where I could help him really helped. At the same time, I worked on my own attitude. My responsibility is to my dog in the ring, and if I'm so nervous that I can't walk a straight line, I'm not holding up my end of the bargain (after all, the dog didn't send in the entry!). I also worked hard on my handling - and still do (I'm the one walking around the parking lot with a metronome).
Don't Let Anyone 'Dis You or Your Dog
This ties in with finding a good instructor and is so important. You have to
believe that you and your dog can DO IT. If you have an Angolian Basket Weaving Dog and
your instructor says that ABWD's can't be trained, find another instructor. Seriously. I
spent too much time paying people who told me that my Lab was impossible to motivate
and was not "obedience material" - he could probably get a CD, maybe a CDX, but UD was
beyond him. The really sad thing is that I started to believe some of that crap myself.
Shame on me for not having faith in my dog. Run, don't walk, away from anyone who puts
you or your dog down.
Good luck with your dogs!