Beautiful eighteen month old Chocolate Labrador Oscar was a difficult puppy. They admit they spoilt him and by the time he was four months old they found him hard to cope with – stealing, grabbing, nipping and so on, so they took him to puppy classes. Oscar has been going to dog training classes (of the ‘old-fashioned’ kind) ever since. They have worked very hard and conscientiously with him and continue to do so, especially the teenage daughter whose dog he is, and she has done brilliantly.
Understanding lots of commands and training exercises is not much use if a dog chooses to ignore them when they are most needed, and Oscar is adolescent! I am certain that with a much more positive approach with reinforcement for good behaviour rather than commands and corrections for the bad behaviour, Oscar would by now be no trouble at all. In fact, if they had applied these methods from the start when he was a puppy, things would be very different.
As it is, he is desperately attention seeking and controlling, and carries on until he gets attention of some sort, whether it’s through stealing socks or spectacles, jumping on people, licking faces or chewing furniture. Commands are attention. Pushing him is attention. Even looking at him is attention. It can be relentless. I imagine the words No, and Leave It and Off are used so frequently they are now background noise to Oscar! Even feeding is a process where he has to jump through several hoops, so to speak, meaningless to a dog, before he’ s allowed to eat his food.
He doesn’t get a chance to work things out for himself and to make his own good decisions. External over-controlling removes opportunities for him to learn self-control. He is required to do so many things that aren’t particularly necessary or relevant, when I feel it would be best to concentrate on the very few important things like not getting any feedback whatsoever for jumping up, for learning that ‘uh-uh’ before he does something is a warning and gives him a chance to make the right decision (with reward and praise when he does so). No dog is happier than when he has to use his own brain to work for us while we quietly give him the time and space to do so – working out for himself what is required and then being rewarded.
I am a little worried about the compatibility between the sort of ‘dog training’ which they want to continue and my behavioural approach to training.