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Rules: help or hindrance and if it isn't broke don't fix it

In all aspects of our lives, we seem surrounded by rules or laws on how all things work or limit how they work but do they help or hinder.

Any garage owner would be horrified if we were to follow the second part of the title and to ignore important maintenance work needed for our cars but there are occasions when we should do just that. I am an example as I have very low platelet levels in my blood. After many blood tests and because I do not seem to have any problems, the doctors have suggested just leaving me as I am.

The more we attempt to learn more about a subject the more rules we find and they seem to become never ending so how can we remember them all. Not only do we find more rules but also we find some alternative rules that achieve the same results more easily. Using enforcement methods of training dogs or to using non-enforcement training is an example.

APASA asked me if I would write for the shelter a helpful pamphlet of 10 golden rules for those who adopted a dog. I thought this would be easy but in fact, as we discussed this back in England, we found that each golden rule we suggested professionals and competitors appear to break them. In order for dogs to work at the highest level that they can achieve we must find methods that make dogs enjoy their work rather than forced to. If you watch any drug dog working, searching for drugs, it only wants to find some drugs, large or small, in order it can have its favourite toy as a reward.

If anyone watches me training Winston when I take him for his morning walk it appears I disobey important rules. I pick up the keys and Winston rushes out the door in front of me to the middle of the drive. Once I lock the door he rushes to the gate and then barks at me to open it. When it is open, he rushes over the bridge to the side of the road. Walking along the road, Winston is often walking in front of me doing his own thing only coming to me when I recall him when a car is coming. What would dog-training instructors make of that?

Look at the driver of a rally car. How can they manoeuvre a car so quickly round a muddy bend on a road where you and I would most certainly slide off into the ditch? Because of the level of our driving skills, they appear to break the rules but in fact, they are not. They are using other rules of bodies in motions and how to apply the forces exerted on the car in a way that makes the car curve round the corner.

Roger Mugford wrote a question in his book Dog Training the Mugford Way how professionals seem to break the established rules of training and end up with such highly trained dogs. It is not that we are breaking the rules it just we are using other rules that produce a quicker result but require a lot more practice and understanding of our dogs to achieve this.

We do not expect everyone who wishes to have a reasonably trained dog to have to learn the skills of a professional handler so we use the normal basic rules. It is only when dog owners feel they would like to widen their experience by trying to train for competitions that they start to learn there are so many new different rules and a changed approach to training.

Over 40 years ago, I started learning Karate. Initially I felt I needed to be able to protect myself but as I progressed, I learned that with more skills acquired the less I would ever need or wished to have to defend myself. They taught us we are always students because there is so much to learn and we will never be able to learn it all. I am still learning more about dogs every day.

At one of our lessons a student was taking a class of other students when we heard him say that this is the way you defend yourself against a knife attack. This was so like stating this was the only method like a rule. The following week we demonstrated that each attacker is different and could use all sorts of approaches with differing levels of skill or left handed right-handed or even drunk.

What we wanted to teach was there are too many methods of attack for one method that defends effectively. Whilst one method may defend a large percentage of attacks, it cannot defend them all. Restricting ourselves to only one method does not work. We need to sense the method of attack and react accordingly. This is in fact how a dog lives and survives by sensing and reacting.

One other thing it has taught me is that aggression by us or by using our dogs is never a viable choice. I watched Police Constable Trevor Ellis very expertly negotiated himself out of what could have been a difficult situation with some bikers in Bridlington. I have now learnt to appreciate such a skill over all the skills I have ever learnt with Karate.

Early in these articles, I wrote that in dog training we needed to be flexible and adapting to our own dogs learning ability with its own inherent skills. This requires us to not to just learn a simple set of rules that are adapted to suit all dogs as such rules may help a percentage of dogs they do not help in all occasions. The reason for this is that all dogs and handlers are different so there is no full set of rules that covers all. How many people have found an instructor stating your dog is stubborn because it will not go into a down. This is simply an excuse because the instructor does not know the correct method that works with your dog.

I have had many e-mails from people who would not force their dogs to do downs or sits at the classes but then found that using titbits with the translation method worked in a few minutes. If one method does not work there is always another that will.

There are indeed many rules, and laws running all aspects of our daily lives but we must look at the rule to see if it in fact works. Take the Ten Commandments and "Thou shall not kill". This seems simple enough to follow but how many ways can we legally kill someone like execution, self-defence or by an accident. Blindly following rules and laws just because they exist or someone has written them down can cause our dogs and us many problems. It is for you the owners of your dogs to decide what you want your dog to be like so long as it is not aggressive.

How often to we go into a shop for one screwdriver only to have to purchase a pack of six because that is how they sell them for our benefit. It is like this with dog training classes. When you visit most dog training classes owners face a pre-packed training programme that may not suit you or your life style. Why learn competition heelwork if all you wish is to train your dog to walk next to you when you walk outside. Would it not be better to teach the lessons the dog owner's want? If they only need heelwork then just teach that. If downs are a problem or sits then teach that then the owner can go home again. Instructors should give the dog owners what they want not what we think they want.

If it isn't broke, don't fix it

Some weeks ago, I received a phone call from a lady who owned a small companion dog. She had read that what she was doing with her dog was breaking all the rules of dog training and was now very concerned that her dog would become dominant and aggressive. She had spoken to her vet who could not see a problem but asked her to contact me.

Her dog slept on the bed and sometimes inside the bed with her and her husband. It sat on a cushion up on the settee. It sat on her lap at the dinner table both at home and at restaurants accepting food from the owner. She evens likes to hug and kiss her dog. It would also walk out the door first and though a small dog it pulled on the lead. It barked at visitors coming into the house and sought their attention before it would then curl up on its cushion.

The owner said her dog was not aggressive toward the husband getting into bed or at any other time. It was not aggressive towards anyone coming neither into the house nor outside. It was not aggressive towards children, dogs or cats. It was not overweight as so many companion dogs often are. Therefore, what was the problem? It seems that the owner was now concerned she had failed to train her dog correctly and should she start to retrain it.

Though it is a companion dog, it appears well trained and obedient but by the owners own methods, not those of a dog training school. A vast majority of owners have been successfully training their dogs without ever having to visit a dog training school. For me any method that works without inflicting pain on the dog is fine with me.

I said I could not see the dog making any complaints about its life style and certain that the dog and the owner give a lot of companionship and love to one another. The dog is almost middle aged and has no problems of aggression or dominance but these rules she mentions are all to stop young dogs showing such traits or correcting them.

Had she started to retrain her dog and make it sleep outside the bedroom, not to sit on the settee or on her lap at the table nor to kiss and cuddle her dog could have actually created aggression as the dog would not understand why it had suddenly lost all its perks.

It is not for us to lay down the rules as if they apply to all dogs, as they do not. In an early article, I said a problem is only a problem when it becomes a problem. Most dogs have the odd problem that owners are happy to tolerate. It is only when a problem becomes out of control or the dogs shows signs of aggression that owners should look to the correct this. It is important that the owners only use the correct and appropriate method of training that suits both the dog and the owner.


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