Monday, April 26, 2010

Dogs are Hard, Let's Go to the Mall!

So I have no idea how I'm going to get through a show weekend when I'm actually showing. I was EXHAUSTED just from being there and watching and chatting (though I cannot WAIT until I can say, Yes, I have the Miniature Schnauzer that jumps 16" and runs like a whippet on speed). But I saw a lot less depressing behavior from dogs and handlers at Fond du Lac's show than I did at Oshkosh's. Apparently Wis/Ill/Minn is super competitive for obedience. Apparently it's hell to get OTCH points. In Wisconsin. Who knew?

I'm sure I'll post collected thoughts from the show later, but right now I want to verbalize some training thoughts I had but couldn't tell anyone about. So, I turn to the internet.

I'm never quite sure how to tell people I'm a clicker trainer. I'm not really sure it's appropriate, but at the same time I really really want to talk about dog training with these people (one man had a BEAUTIFULLY trained Elkhound in Utility A; the dog took the wrong jump and so wasn't lined up properly for a straight front. The dog realized it's mistake and corrected it's position by shifting over. It was stunning to watch) and feel like I the way I train is a relevant point. I also am dying to find other positive trainers in my area because I've realized I'm really pretty atrocious mechanically. I can quote you theory until the Long Down is over, but when I try to do it I'm a mess. I want to work with someone who can show me what I'm doing wrong and help me fix it. I just need help.

I want to train WITH people so bad, I'm considering trying a choke chain on Gatsby. Or maybe a prong. Or maybe signing up for my club's training class and clicking in a corner. I don't know.

See, GOOD training is good training, regardless of methods. I think of it sort of like cutting the Gordian Knot. A really good trainer just trains dogs and gets results without to much fussing from any party, dog or human.

Bad training is bad training, and I've talked about why bad trainers should choose positive methods until they stop sucking before.

And another thing. I've heard it said, "Obedience is about HAVE to, agility is about WANT to." I've started to realize how reactive Gatsby is. He doesn't do really well with restraint and he doesn't like sudden changes in his environment (adding or subtracting people, sudden movements, sudden noises). I have some hope with agility, because he's much better if he can be DOING something and I really do think he enjoys it, but honestly I have doubts about that too. Run-throughs start next week, for the first few we're just going to go play Crate Games and try to stay under threshold.

But I wibble on Obedience. I wibble on competing at all. I'm very very competitive. Trialling would be almost exclusively for my enjoyment. I want to show off, I want to beat people, and I want people to think that I am a competent and savvy person. I want people to think "wow, there may be something to this clicking nonsense after all." A lot of people in this area still see Obedience as the gold standard (this is because they all have Golden Retrievers) and to be honest I wouldn't mind having an obedient dog. I am so damn lucky Gatsby turned out to be more or less easy to live with. I struggle with balancing what I want to enjoy and spend my money on versus what is best for my dog.

It sort of comes back to the idea that "you can't get reliability without corrections/aversives." How much is fair to expect of the dog? I read a Koehler e-mail list and they talk a lot about making the dog responsible for his actions and avoid the correction. (Koehler and learning theory is a whole 'nother post to put in the queue.) When is it alright to say, "No, you MUST do this, even if you don't want to, because I say so"? Is behavior modification really any better? I read a conversation about how a dog wasn't getting a clicked retrieve, but just got it when an ear pinch was introduced. "Now he loves his dumbell!" How ethical is it to condition a dog to LOVE a hunk of plastic?