Sunday, February 14, 2010

Competition Obedience, Pet Training, Behavior Challenges

A phone call today prompted me to think about how I discuss competition behaviors, basic manners, and behavior-problem-solving.

Someone wanted to be involved in a competition program. Because the dog lacked basic manners. And the family was concerned over some over-arousal, some possibly normal puppy mouthing, and some resource guarding.

Basic manners and competition behaviors definitely improve the human-animal bond. The training can improve the communication between a dog and family. But very rarely does this solve behavior challenges families are experiencing.

Fear is a large part of the challenges I see. We need to separately address this, not pushing the dog past the point of being afraid, and teach him ways to be more comfortable with the world. The activities we do are often very different from basic manners training. We do a lot of classical conditioning ( this case, pairing super special food with a very very tiny version of the scary thing, like dropping a spoon 5" onto carpet, rather than a pot onto the hard kitchen floor). We do other training too, teaching dogs to offer behaviors and respond to cues.

Basic training involves teaching dogs to respond to the cues we use in day to day life. Walk on a nice leash, come when called in the house or yard, drop items on cue. Sit or lie down when asked, wait on a mat while dinner is prepared, greet visitors politely.

And competition all the super precise behaviors we use for obedience, rally, agility, or other activities. We want the dog respond to the first cue, immediately, and as quickly as possible. We have a precise way we want the behaviors performed. We want the same exact response, time and time again.

Most people want the manners before competition training, thinking the dog needs to know that before you can have competition behaviors. I -strongly- diasgree with one exception... and that is the family has to be able to live with the dog, and so all the cues that allow the family to co-exist are necessary. If the dog is not with the family, he won't be learning anything.

But basic manner behaviors don't need to be super precise. Latency (...time from cue to start of response) doesn't have to be next-to-zero. A slightly different response every time is a big deal. And really, if you have to repeat a cue on occasion, no big deal. And when you go to train competition behaviors...there is additional training to teach the dog he should respond right away, respond quickly, be super attentive and be aware of tiny differences.

So if you intend to be involved in competition activities...find a competition class. Take it at the same time as a manners class. Or let your instructor know, so s/he can help you create precise and immediate responses.

And here's where I would say something clever about the three groups of training. summary...they're different, have their uses, and are necessary. But pet training doesn't make competition behaviors easier!

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