There are many ways to skin a cat, as the saying goes. The same goes for training dogs. We all start the same place – completely without a clue. We’re all able to relate to the human mind and through that, have an understanding of human thought capacity. It either takes a lot of trial and error or a very good instructor, before our knowledge covers the much more amputated dog thought capacity – even longer before we can use that knowledge effectively in our training.
But this is the key – knowing how a dog thinks and via that, teaching it what we want it to learn. Far too many raise the bar way too high, because they  attribute the dog thinking abilities, that they just don’t have.

In the meantime, there are different approaches and methods to training – some much kinder than others. Some are ethically easier to identify oneself with and that alone can determine the choice. There can be such a strong identification with one particular approach, that it’s negative effects go unnoticed. Methods can become religion and if the religion doesn’t happen to fit the dog, then it’s the dog, that gets replaced and not the approach.

If you aren’t very experienced yourself and you have an instructor with a religion, you will probably spot the very empty toolbox, if you show up with a dog, that doesn’t react in the proper way to the instruction. My point here is,  that for the best results, you need to have several ways of teaching the same exercise, but also several ways of responding to dogs’ different behaviours.

The well-equipped toolbox is the result of years and years of experience, of trial and error, of perseverance, self criticism and analysis. There are no shortcuts. Courses and books cannot compete with hands on experience.

So it’s not just a case of teaching the dog, how to perform an exercise. It’s also a case of how the exercise is performed. Precision is one thing and has definitely a value, but if it’s achieved by putting the dog under undue pressure, then it loses its value – at least it ought to.
Exuberance is another thing. This too has its value, but again this is reduced, when it has a negative effect on precision. In effect the aim is to work between total precision and almost tipping point exuberance, if you are going to get the best result. Everyone loves to see an extremely happy or fast dog being precise. Some don’t mind seeing a miserable dog being precise. I do and if I had to prioritize between the two aspects, I’d take the exuberance any day. It’s much easier to work towards precision with an enthusiastic dog than it is to get exuberance from a miserable one.

So which method, gives the best result? Best result being the unification of exuberance and precision and not merely a question of the judges points. Can I do it another way and get a better result? This does not mean by using radically different methods and set-ups but differences in rewarding, distances and support. Quick fix, although widely used, never works. In fact dramatic changes only serve to confuse the dog or make it unsure and hesitant.

Can I see myself, with my ethical codex, using a certain method? This is a question, we all should be asking ourselves, because if you can’t see yourself feeling good about doing something, don’t go there! And just for the record, hitting, throwing, jerking hard on the lead or showing your anger or irritation, is never okay.

Have I been blinded by another’s results, that I’ve hung my conscience up with my coat and forgotten that it’s even there? Another question we all should be asking ourselves. Is that rosette, trophy or title really worth compromising your right to call yourself a decent human being for? I think not.

At the end of the day and as I have said many times before, I’m never going to be anything spectacular with my dogs. I can be a part of it and be okay good at what I do, but reaching the top will always be beyond my limits. I’m just not ambitious enough to just go ahead and do whatever it takes. I like being able to look in the mirror too much ? and when my dogs or I screw up, it doesn’t really bother me – at least not enough.

My heroes are the ones who do really well and do it by being kind. They might not always score the highest points or run in the fattest time, but they are without doubt the people we all should be admiring and trying to live up to.

So be nice out there.