commitment - is your's total or otherwise?
How committed are we to our dogs and the effect they have on
I would like to think that the answer to the first part of this question from
any reader of OUR DOGS will generally be that they are fully committed to the
welfare of their dogs and all aspects of their involvement in canine activities.
Preparing for dog shows or training them for any of the various competitive
activities is a major commitment taking up much time, effort and financial input.
There are the rewards of winning or gaining qualifications, but most of all
there is the reward of involvement - the sheer pleasure of doing something constructive
with their dogs and the company of like-minded people.
There are of course people who find their commitment centred round their own
pleasure at the expense of the dog, people who should be playing golf instead
of their involvement in canine activities. After all, a bag of golf clubs can
be put into the cupboard and ignored until the next game. Perhaps I am not being
fair to golfers, it was a game I used to enjoy before involvement in dog activities
took over my life.
The commitment I would like to bring to the fore at this time is the personal
commitment and involvement to achieve an acceptable behaviour level or a specific
standard in training for domestic, competitive or professional purposes.
Over the years I have studied the commitment of owners when training or attending
to elementary problems with their dogs. I shall use the expression of owners
as a universal approach to identifying handlers and trainers (not instructors).
Most of these are owners of the dogs and the expression of handlers
and trainers gives the impression that we are principally dealing
with the competitive or professional field of expertise. It is important pet
dog owners appreciate that they are more numerous than the others
and can benefit from the type of assistance that is most appropriate to their
Studying people for the purpose of improving methods and handling techniques
is just as important as studying their dogs. It is the owner who creates the
end product - an obedient dog or a disobedient one, a worthy competitor or an
also ran, an effective professional or a liability. When working
to create a canine reaction commitment is important. We are expecting concentrated
commitment from the dog at that particular time and he deserves the same from
the person creating that reaction.
Unfortunately concentrated, or I prefer to call it total commitment from the
owner is not always forthcoming during training and todays tendency to
use titbits, toys or some other gadget all too often has become a substitute
for total commitment. I am not condemning the use of such training aids, I make
use of them myself, but observation has taught me that far too many instructors
and behaviourists are over dependent on the use of these aids when assisting
or directing a dog owner the conditioning techniques.
As training a dog to perform a task or eradicating an undesirable action is
in both cases a form of conditioning for the desired response it is easier to
be inclusive of both situations by describing a procedure as one of conditioning
a dogs action or reaction.
Over the years, which cover my life with dogs, I have watched the form of owner
commitment change. My own activities have changed. During the 1950s when I entered
the scene of dog training total commitment was much more evident than it is
today, although there were always quite a number of owners who seemed to be
more interested in the social side of dog training than the practical application
of an instructors teachings. Unfortunately that total commitment in the
earlier years created a harsher and, at the time, a more brutal approach from
a significant section of the training fraternity.
Although I was brought up in the branch of a club where brutality was not an
option there were many clubs where the desire for success would bring out the
worst, and not the best, in a proportion of owners. I recall one situation where
an instructor took a German Shepherd from his owner to demonstrate how she should
be applying TOTAL commitment with her dog. After a few minutes of total compulsion
the dog managed to break free, ran out of the hall and was lost for three months
before he found his way home; with shotgun pellets in his thick coat.
My first German Shepherd worked well in both Working Trials and Obedience. He
became a W.T. Champion but we were not quite committed enough to win an Obedience
ticket. I was advised by a particular section of competitors to
put him in a kennel when he was not being exercised or trained and this exclusion
from my company for long periods would result in greater commitment from him.
I believe this technique is still used by some today; but I saw no sense in
having a canine companion in isolation for the sake of success in a field of
The change to the conditions that prevail today is now so dramatic that titbits,
toys and gadgets have taken the desired personal commitment out of conditioning
for a cooperative canine response. The problem is that when inappropriate use
of training aids is applied to generate canine attention this does not prepare
the dog, or the owner, for situations when these aids are not at hand. There
are so many occasions in real life when a training aid is not at hand and immediate
action is a necessity. The aid may be in a pocket or a belly bag and by the
time the aid is applied it is too late. There are also many situations when
a dog is distracted to the degree that these training aids are of no practical
I have written many times about timing and it would do no harm to review the
principles again. The question is What is the correct timing? There
is, in fact, a short space of time when action is of any value; running from
the ideal to the latest effective moment. This period of time is very short,
and in most cases two or three seconds can be considered too long to be effective.
Timing can best be described as: -
(a) The time lapse starts when the dog is thinking of acting in a particular
manner. This is the ideal and most effective time to act.
(b) The period finishes as the dog is completing the particular action. This
is the very latest that an owner has to affect a dogs actions.
The ideal through to latest effective moment is the OWNER RESPONSE TIME
The effectiveness of human reaction can therefore be said to be in relation
to the timing. The most effective reaction to an owners intervention would
take place during the canine thinking period. If an owner is sufficiently observant,
he can realise when his dog is thinking of acting in a particular manner. In
fact, past experience should warn an owner of these occasions. This applies
to unwanted actions an owner wishes to eradicate and to desirable actions an
owner wishes to consolidate. Anticipation is the name of the game and the owners
ability to respond within the appropriate response time will make the difference
between success and failure.
For example - while out for a walk with a dog the sight of another dog relatively
close may cause an aggressive reaction. If the owner sees the other dog first,
he can observe his dogs initial reaction to the other dogs presence.
This knowledge can give an owner the opportunity to take preventive action and
divert his dogs attention before his own dog has decided to show the unpleasant
side of his nature. Strong and urgent deflecting action on the owners
part while the dog is thinking would be most appropriate. If an owner waits
until his own dog has shown the unpleasant side of his nature he may or may
not be able to stop his dog but just as important he is less likely to teach
the dog self control. Every action an owner takes should, if possible, be carried
out in a manner that will help to prevent a recurrence of his dogs unwanted
It is understandable why so many owners do not appreciate the importance of
timing when I see that so many instructors and behaviourists failing to bring
the point home. I have watched so many T.V. programmes involving behaviourists
when they have applied Discs, Clickers and the like to affect a dogs reaction,
and they can apply them with perfect timing, but I have yet to hear them explain
to the dog owner the importance of this timing. It has been the same with training
classes where titbits are utilized as an inducement. All too often there is
little or no importance conveyed to the owners of timing - of the effect of
good timing and the ineffectiveness of bad timing.
To make matters worse the titbits, toys and attention generating gadgets are
used instead of, or without sufficient involvement of the owner. As previously
described, all too often, there is insufficient personal commitment to have
the owner effective when these inducements are not immediately available.
That philosophy will be discussed in the next article titled - TITBITS, TOYS