Saturday, January 15, 2005

A contrarian view of dog training

Train in Vain - Why dog training fails. By Jon Katz
...Training also requires that we understand the animal nature of dogs, their love of rules, ritual, food, and reinforcement. Let dogs be dogs—it's an honorable thing to be. Because many owners prefer to view their pets as soul mates, therapists, ethereal beings, even mind-readers, we give them too much credit, make them too complex, muddying our communications.

Seeing dogs as piteous, abused, and pathetic creatures doesn't help either. Many dogs are mistreated, including my elder border collie. But I never refer to Orson as an abused dog. I don't want to see him that way, and when it comes to training, it doesn't really matter. I treat him well, love him wildly, train him carefully, and have high expectations. We will work until we get there; he deserves no less. If one more well-meaning owner tries to explain that his dog is biting my ankle or attacking my dog because 'he was terribly abused,' I might go buy some mace. And not for the dog....

Jon Katz loves dogs. Not just his dogs, but dogs as a people (species is not quite the right word.)

This is a good essay on training. It reminds me of the many years I spent with Molly at Marly's Canine College (which was of the "old school", she regarded me somewhat affectionately as a soft-hearted wimp). At Marly's I saw what Katz writes. Every dog needs his or her own approach to training. Ever trainer needs his or her own approach. The two compromise. Mostly it takes a long long time for most dogs and trainers.

Molly was a bit high strung, and jealous of our attention. She did very well with our kids even in her middle-age, but that was a result of a lot of work from us and her. There are resemblances between the lessons Katz outlines and those I've learned from our children.

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