I started obedience training dogs in 1983. I was trained by two top trainers of the day, and their training methods were very traditional, which is what was used in the early days of dog training and dog performance. Positive reinforcement training methods hadn’t come about yet. In the early days, there was essentially one way for a dog to learn, and the dog had to cave in to learn through those methods. The trainer was never really wrong, it was all on the dog to do exactly what they wanted from him. The dog got no choice. He was just expected to comply.
I had grown weary of the tough training methods for my little Corgi Schatsi, and I think my trainers had grown weary of watching me struggle, so I switched to conformation training, because I really wanted to show my dog, and I didn’t want to continue to use harsh training methods! I wanted training to be fun and I really wanted Schatsi to enjoy the work. He was not willing to show well in obedience competitions, even though he trained well, and I think all of the constant “drilling” of commands over and over for perfection did him in. Those were the methods of the day, and many of the top performance dogs were Golden Retrievers who can provide results despite that type of training. Schatsi was clearly no Golden Retriever. The show ring was the only place where he was allowed to choose, and he chose not to show well. He honestly just didn’t care. But, at the end of the day, I loved him to pieces, and he was always my little dog who slept with me. Over time, I was just finished with having to be a stern trainer offering him no fun in training and fully expecting to get results from my dog when it mattered!
The methods I learned in conformation training were so much more kind and fun, and I really had a great time in my classes and in the ring! The dogs weren’t expected to be robots, and judges liked to see a dog’s personality and expression. Because I was allowed to train and show with food involved, Schatsi hit his stride and we finally became the team I had hoped for. He was ridiculously food motivated, and few Corgis I know will turn up their nose to beef liver! He was a dream to show in the conformation ring, and he really did seem to enjoy himself. The only fault I could find with him was that he often drooled when I baited him….which some judges clearly did not find amusing!
So this is the background I came from when I got Rugby in 2007. By then, I was new as a professional trainer, and I knew a few additional methods of obedience training for dogs, but my mind kept drifting back to the mind set that the dog should conform to the trainer. I was using very gentle, kind, positive methods, but Rugby just wasn’t getting it, and it was very frustrating for me. I knew that he should be figuring things out, but he clearly wasn’t always making much progress, and I kept wondering what was wrong with him. I was still hung up on the trainer is always right, and the dog must conform!
So rather than adjust what I was doing, like a dummy, I kept doing the same things over and over again, thinking that Rugby would eventually sort things out and cave in to what I wanted. Well, my little speckled dog had ideas of his own, and he stuck to his guns with them. So for a few years, it was honestly a struggle between my trying to make that square peg fit into the round hole, and Rugby telling me he just wasn’t going to fit into the box I wanted for him.
Part of the problem is that deep down, I’m a “rule following” sort of gal. All you have to do is teach me the rules and I can happily follow them. I’d much rather have a coloring book with crayons, than a blank paper with crayons. I like having lines and knowing what the picture looks like. When I see a blank sheet of paper, I have no idea what to create and design.
Rugby was clearly a “blank paper” sort of dog! He was not interested in following the rules for training methods, and he was set on teaching me how to think outside the box in working with him. Keep in mind, he did make progress with many of the standard training methods I use everyday, but his behavior improved well in some situations and only marginally…or not at all at other times. This was very perplexing to me, because I see other dogs make improvements in leaps and bounds every day of the week. What made Rugby so different?