The names of the people and dogs featured in this post have been changed to shield those who get it from the damn fools who don't.
I've hit the jackpot in the last few months. I've acquired two students who are super-motivated and have glorious dogs.
Melissa defines the words "quick study." In large measure perhaps because before she got into dog sports she was an accomplished horse trainer and instructor. She gets it, then knows how to apply it . . . with love.
Her dog Midas is a big, gorgeous, happy golden retriever. He's still in his second year and the world is his tug toy.
We're doing exercises to loosen up his rear end, to make it more agile -- indeed, to help him discover that he has a rear end. "Oh yeah," Melissa says, "just like horses." Then she proceeds to build on what I've suggested. Like I said, she gets it.
So does Midas. He's Melissa's Novice A dog, but you'd never know it. He bounds around in training, grasping every new thing quickly and with great joy. I've never had a dog who was heeling beautifully as quickly as Midas. And happy, happy, happy.
Except for one thing. Midas is terrified of the dumbell. Petrified! Panicked! Before they got to me, Melissa and Midas fell into the hands of an "old school" instructor. She put a choke collar on Midas, strung him up until gagging, eyes bulging, about to die, he opened his mouth. Whereupon the "old school" trainer stuffed the dumbbell in.
What's missing in the anecdote I've just related? What's missing is that nobody strung that "old school" trainer up . . . and left her hanging there.
So now Melissa and I are on a slow, slow, ultra-gentle desensitization program to undo the damage the "old school" trainer did. It's a noble experiment; I pray that it works.
Then there's Laurie, a snowbird, and her once-in-a-lifetime border collie Crash. Laurie is no newbie; in earlier times she's put OTCHs on two border collies.
In here (Scottsdale) for the winter, Laurie and Crash were having heeling problems. So I've spent the last few months teaching them Pinpoint Heeling. Laurie is astounded and euphoric. Nobody in the part of the country where Laurie has lived for a lifetime has even heard of the method. But now Crash has. And he's heeling happily, confidently, head up, eyes locked on Laurie's armband . . . because he wants to. Crash gets it, too.
Back home, Laurie has had the same "old school" instructor for decades. She describes that instructor's method this way: "She yanks, yanks, yanks, until the dog gives in and complies."
In 2004, right after my first book, Remembering to Breathe, was published, I received an email from a novice trainer in the upper midwest. She and her young golden retriever had blundered into the hands of an "old school" yank-'em-around trainer. By the time she had read Remembering to Breathe the dog was beaten down, dispirited. And the owner was ready to quit.
I advised her to pick herself, dust herself (and her golden) off and find an instructor who used positive methods. I suggested maybe the damage could be undone.
Long story short: Today, eight years later, they have completed their UDX2 and OM2 -- and both of them are having a ball.
None of what I'm describing here is unfamiliar to me. My Novice A dog Honeybear and I began in a parks department class. The teacher was "old school." I can still hear it: "Harder, Willard! Honeybear doesn't even feel those little pops you're giving her." But Honeybear did feel them and she didn't like them. I quickly wised up and for the rest of Honeybear's OTCH career she was trained with increasingly positive methods. But I've always felt that she never quite got over the imprint made by her first experience with obedience training -- being jerked around "old-school" style.
The point of all this is that every day thousands of dogs are being ruined by the cretins of obedience training who don't know or don't care that "old school" was recognized as an unsatisfactory training style three or four decades ago.
It's just this simple. Those of us who have been paying attention know that dogs and people learn best when they enjoy what they're doing. Show me a trainer whose modus operandi is jerk-their-heads-off, string-'em-up and I'll show you a weak trainer. As well as one who is not too bright.
Not too long ago one of the people I most respect in dog sports was sounding off about her aggressive aversion to prong collars. I may have indicated that I thought she was overreacting. At which point she told me: "Willard, our dogs can't speak for themselves. That's why we need to advocate for them."
Which is the reason for this post.
P.S. Thanks to AnneMarie Silverton who developed Pinpoint Heeling. And to her disciple Louise Meredith who coached me in the method. It's made all the difference.