How many times have you heard a handler at a trial or in training ask their dog to lie down? And then again, Lie Down! And then louder, LIE DOWN!!! Until finally red-faced and booming they scream at the top of their lungs LIIIIEEE DOOOOOWWWNNN!!
Well, lets just say it’s no rare occurrence and happens more often than many handlers or their dogs would care to admit. But how did they get there? No, there’s no new virus that causes sudden deafness in dogs. Although for some handlers, a disease such as this might almost be a relief.
When a dog’s listening skills are less than stellar, it’s most often the result of inconsistency in training. If a handler allows their dog to ignore their request on some occasions, then demands compliance at other times, how does the dog know when it should or should not listen?
First question, “Was my dog ever trained properly?” That is to say, was it trained to execute your request the first time asked? If the answer is yes, then perhaps you’ve managed to mysteriously “untrain” your dog without even being aware.
If this is the case, the most common root of the problem among my clients is that they’ve become “goal oriented”, rather than being in the moment with their dog, monitoring whether or not the dog is carrying out their request. What do I mean?
For instance, let’s take Joe Handler… He really wants to get those sheep through a panel. He’s asked the dog to flank, walk-up, lie down, flank, and stop again. The dog flanks once and walks up when asked to stop, nothing else.
But praise the lord, that packet of sheep marched right through those panels! Yippeee, Joe’s ecstatic — and blind to the fact the dog didn’t execute even half of what he asked. Joe reached his goal, the sheep made the obstacle! But in the process he gave his seal of approval to his disobedient dog.
John just trained his dog not to listen; he just trained deafness.
Yes, ultimately we all need to learn to handle through a course, but not at the cost of misleading the dog. It cannot be okay for the dog to ignore you at one moment, and then be expected to be a perfect listener the next. The goal cannot be just the obstacle on the course. The true goal is the dog. And how well it’s trained, is how reliable it will become.
To be fair to our working partners, we need to be consistent. To correct or punish a dog for disobedience if we haven’t done our part to be clear about our expectations, is simply not right.
So the next time you feel your blood pressure rising as you ask two or three times for a simple stop from your dog, stop and ask yourself “Have I been consistent in my training?” If not, you owe your dog an apology. And you owe it to him to embrace consistency as you work together in the future.