Lessons learned the “hard way” usually make the most lasting impression. I know, I’ve lived thru it. Experience has not treated my past mistakes with kindness. NosireeBob…If I could start over with my German Shepherd “Hans”, who’s nearly 5 years old now, I would pay any price to do so. Not that he turned out poorly, anything but. However, I’m sure that I stifled some of his potential by my own Monkey-Boy on Mountain Dew enthusiasm. If my mistakes can help someone else, then so be it. Save yourself while it’s possible.
It seems like 8 out of 10 families that take on a new German Shepherd puppy have enormous plans for their dog. Search & Rescue, Therapy Work, Schutzhund/IPO, Scentwork, Cadaver work, Agility, Rally, or whatever. All fine goals, and goals that I share and support wholeheartedly. Get that dog a job and let him fulfill his heritage!!! But wait a minute. Are you really aware of the road that leads to these goals? Or do you desire the fastest path possible?
I had these same goals, with emphasis on S & R work at the time. I met a bunch of people that had the same enthusiasm for the work as I did, and they wanted to start us out right away, getting Hansie trained. It was all so exciting and engrossing. We practiced finding all manner of people and articles and scents wherever they could be concealed. Hansie showed great potential, and the S&R team trainer wanted to continue on a flank-speed course to certification. The whole team was behind us, rooting us on the whole time. The truth was simple. Hans COULD find whatever we sent him after…and did so gloriously.
As we found “success”, we also found a “trainer” who could teach us “protection”. We started hanging out with him and his “posse” 3 or 4 times a month. Teaching him to Bite. Bite Hard. This too was very exciting…But during this whole process, my dog didn’t have a trustworthy “Sit”, “Down”, “Heel”, or ” Out” command. None of the “trainers” I was trusting, thought those things were important. “Everything will fall into place in the future…” I wish I had trusted the little man that lives in my head that was telling me that something was amiss.
I did listen to him eventually, if only for a short time. We engaged a Trainer that could help us with a foundation of behavior that every dog needs. We went to her a total of 3 times, just long enough to see Hans obey the commands taught once or twice. But it wasn’t exciting, and it wasn’t flashy. Sitting, Heeling, and holding a Down, just seemed like childs play when compared to sniffing out a hidden article of clothing buried under a pile of rocks and sticks. And that’s where the mistakes of the past came to present.
The standards of behavior that I had been lead to believe were satisfactory, were revealed to be entirely, and heinously, inadequate by more official standards. The attitude I had been trained to believe by lesser “trainers” said, “Who cares what the dog does when he finds the body part or drug item? If he paws and digs at it, or tries to chew it, big deal! At least he FOUND it!!” Or, “He has a nice, strong, bite!! Who cares if he can’t walk past another living being without charging in for a bite?” Or, “Any Dog can learn to Sit if you really want to go nowhere fast.” or even worse in my estimation, “Once we get the exciting stuff taught, we’ll strap on an e-collar and teach him obedience in a few hours. That’s all he really needs, a jolt of electricity to force obedience.”
Fortunately, I like to think of myself as someone who not only thinks, but feels, as well. This just didn’t feel right, and I set myself on the road to the protective womb of basic dog training. A U-turn back to where we should have started. Essentially, we gave up nearly everything we were doing, the S&R work, the Bite-work, everything but Obedience with some Nosework for fun. The year between Hans’ second and third birthday was a time of intense learning, “For Me”… Hans came along as an instructor, but this was about my mistakes, and the desire to now, Get It Right. It was my best time as a dog owner.
Struggling and learning to keep my dogs’ behavior under control, his distractions to a bare minimum, and watching him develop into a trustworthy companion and biddable work partner, gave me great satisfaction. It also gave Hans a new attitude. He went from being a good working dog with raggedy behavior, to being a “Real” working dog that could be trusted to do ask I asked of him. The difference is worlds apart. It was worth the time and effort. I wish I had begun the process properly when he was very young. Not gotten impatient with the Foundation that he needed, and jumped 4 steps ahead of where we should have been. I also wish that I had been more selective with “trainers”. Just because a guy has a cool website, and a kennel full of dogs he claims are all “Titled”, doesn’t mean he knows what he’s doing. Just because a bunch of middle-aged women get together twice a month, wear matching t-shirts,and muddy hiking boots and search houses for horses teeth stuck under the carpet, doesn’t mean they know thing one about S & R work.
My point behind this post is simple: Start from the Start. Teach your puppy or young dog the basics of obedience and proper behavior that all working dogs need. Take your time researching, meeting, and building a relationship with a trainer that can demonstrate their ability to train with their own dog. Be humble, and willing to be a “Newbie”. Read books with a reasoning eye, and a questioning wit. Allow your dog time to develop a relationship with you. Learn to trust each other. Learn from as many sources as possible, even those you may not entirely agree with at first. Keep an open mind, and you will find much of value. Convict yourself to training, and don’t be lazy about it. Take your time and slow down!!! Make the basic obedience commands as automatic in your dog as perfect as possible, and then stretch forward even closer. Never accept anything as “good enough”, or get lazy. Keep your training fun and fresh for the dog, injecting change ups frequently, by diversifying. This is going to take TIME. Your Time. But you have a goal…and there are right ways to achieve goals, and poor ways to achieve goals.
Ever heard of a Home-Builder that tries to build an upstairs bedroom before the foundation of the house is securely laid? CAN’T Happen. Ever saw a baby bird try to fly before it has feathers? CAN’T Happen. Ever saw a dog earn an IPO title before it knew basic obedience? CAN’T Happen. Ever heard of a “K9 officer” find a cache’ of narcotics without training and discipline? CAN’T Happen.
If you are now wondering how to get started and see your goals fulfilled, or find other goals, go out and find a legitimate balanced approach trainer. Avoid the single method zealot. Find someone who’s own dogs glow with health, eagerly follow their owner, and demonstrate that they know the basics of behavior, evidence of training instilled in them with patience and conviction. That person may or MAY NOT be certified by some “trainers school”, or some fly-by-night “professional organization.
Now get out there and get to building your dogs “Foundation”. And by the way, be sure to turn off the internet at times. There’s a lot more stupidity compiled there than anywhere else in the world.
That is all!