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Sunday, 31 July 2011

It’s not me.......It’s you

It's a fact of life that as a dog trainer you are going to spend more time training humans than dogs.

I'm not going to say that there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad dog, I'm sure that there are a few thoroughly bad sorts out there. More often than not, it's a case of a good dog gone bad at the hand of an incompetent or lazy owner. Wasted potential; stress and frustration on all sides.

Modern gundogs have been bred to be biddable, even Cockers. They just want to please.

It's the old joke but it's very true; Try locking your wife and your gundog in the boot of your car for 24 hours and see who is most pleased to see you when you let them out!

Equally, very few gundogs are perfect. Each will have a trait or a habit that you find irritating. Alongside basic obedience and manners, these are the area that you are going to have to work on. Every dog will be different in the areas where they are deficient. Some will be sticky on retrieving, some won't pick feather, some have anger management issues; most will want to run in.

There is no "one size fits all solution." Early days training and basic obedience will pretty much follow the same pattern irrespective of what breed of dog you have or what its purpose will be. It's only when the basics are instilled that you need to find a bespoke solution to your dog's issues.

Flexibility is key. Just because one solution worked for you last dog, that approach may not be appropriate for your new pup. You have to train to your dog's character. A hard going dog can take a more interventional approach in comparison to a soft dog, which will need lots of gentle encouragement. It takes time to really know your pup's character. If you haven't got time to spend with your dog every day, things are going to be difficult. In my experience, the most difficult character type to train is an oppositional dog that is also soft natured. That way lies many hours of tears and frustration.

It's amazing just how much you can achieve on your own. Books and the internet are a great resource. You also know more than you think you do! However, there may come a time when you seek outside assistance.

Caveat emptor

There are a lot of unregulated dog trainers out there. Some are great; some are robbing shits. Hopefully you'll find a great one. For the novice, group training is a tempting solution, but it is not as economic as it seems. In reality you only get 5 minutes one on one in a group, and training tends to be set at a generalised level. Good for confidence, crap for your dog's specific issues. Remember you are paying for training NOT socialisation. If cost is an issue, one on one lessons can be expensive, but you don't have to have them every week. One a month may be enough to keep you on the right path.

Try to find a trainer that you like personally. It's hard to take advice from people you don't like or respect. Likewise, I try to take on clients whom I get on with. My wife says I need to work on my inter-personal skills! I think she needs to mind her own business.

I recently took on a new client, who had a 2 year old Springer, who was sticky on retrieves. I should have known the fit was wrong when the client talked all over me on our first telephone conversation. The clue is in the word "trainer" if you know better, stop wasting your cash and sort the problem yourself. If you want to learn; STFU and listen! This particular client's dog had a lot of control put on it at an early age; so much so that the urge to retrieve had been repressed. The dog would hunt with a degree of esprit, but as soon as the dummy was found, she pottered, mouthed and generally lost momentum. The dog had become bored with canvas and even more bored with her drudge of an owner. The phrase "more life in a tramps vest" came to mind. When I pointed out to the client that the reason the dog didn't retrieve back to him was that she found a saliva-sodden canvas bag more interesting than him, relations turned frosty. This was a 2 year old dog that had never had feather in its mouth or any experience of what it was bred for. What a bloody waste! I tried to persevere for the sake of the dog, but eventually we had to go our separate ways, the client to find a more "inter-personal" trainer and me to tick off from the list, another of life's arseholes whom I never have to meet again.

Happy training!

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