Pressure used to your advantageWORTHINGTON — It doesn’t matter how strong you are or how much weight you can lift on the bench press, there is always some-one who is bigger, stronger or faster somewhere on earth. The same can be said for your outdoor expertise. I think that in the world of dog training I know a little more than most dog owners, but there are a huge number of people who know a lot more than me.
By: Scott Rall, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — It doesn’t matter how strong you are or how much weight you can lift on the bench press, there is always some-one who is bigger, stronger or faster somewhere on earth. The same can be said for your outdoor expertise. I think that in the world of dog training I know a little more than most dog owners, but there are a huge number of people who know a lot more than me.
It is my understanding of this fact that always keeps me interested in how other trainers work with their personally-owned dogs or the dogs owned by the custom-ers who are paying them to train dogs. I figure if I consis-tantly listen to other train-ers, at least a little of their knowledge has to rub off on me.
I was in Kansas City last weekend for the national Pheasants Forever Conven-tion. I had never been to this city and was looking forward to the sights, sounds and what I might learn by attend-ing. There were three stages and five seminar meeting rooms holding seminars all day for all three days.
I was curious about one such gathering titled, “Training your dog with pressure, not force. Is pres-sure force? Not necessarily.” I got to the meeting room early and there were already at least 40 other folks there. The speaker started off by defining his idea of two dis-tinctly different kinds of pressure. He explained that if you understand the two different kinds of pressure and how dogs relate to them, then you use them to your advantage to help train your dog faster and to a higher level.
The first kind of pressure a dog experiences is environ-mental pressure. This is the kind of anxiety a dog feels as a result of its surroundings and external factors. When you take a dog to a new place or into a situation it has never experienced, it will behave differently. Most of the signs a dog will display are quite obvious. They will most likely be panting, which will happen even if the temperature is not hot. They will have a hard time sitting still and will most likely not listen to com-mands very well. Their ears will be back and might even be pinned back. These are signs of environmental pres-sure. Dogs don’t train well in these situations.
The speaker had a young yellow Labrador sit in the front of the class that was showing all of the signs of environmental pressure. After about 5 minutes of sit-ting there as his owner spoke, the dog became more accustomed to the situation and was much calmer. It was only a matter of a few min-utes and the dog was much more at ease. The speaker went on to explain that if you want a dog to perform well for you, you cannot inject them into environments without helping them adjust.
Imagine taking a dog on an escalator for the first time. Most dogs would just freak out. The speaker took his dog to the escalator early in the morning when no one was around. He had the dog sit on the bottom step of the escala-tor that was not moving. They went on and off, on and off until the dog got used to the feel of the grooved floor, and then they walked up and down the stationary escala-tor until it was just another walk in the park.
The owner had the dog sit at the top and walk down, and then called the dog. At the end of the exercise, the dog rode the moving escala-tor with no problems. Un-derstanding this kind of pressure and how it affects your dog will help to train your dog more successfully. Dogs train poorly when they are experiencing these kinds of external pressures. You need to be able to recognize these issues and address them before you continue training. They can be pre-sent both at home and in the field.
The second kind of pres-sure is social pressure. This is a more commonly under-stood effect on dogs when explained in different words. Social pressure is really the understanding of the pack mentality and how dogs thrive in this world. For a dog, social pressure is un-derstanding who the domi-nant member of the pack is and where, in the overall pecking order, any particu-lar dog ranks. It is not a se-cret that the human should be the leader of the pack. The speaker showed us a few ways to assert this domi-nance (social pressure) without any force. What be-gan as subtle pressures got the dog to behave in the de-sired ways.
There are many ways to assert social pressure. These include the tone of your voice, the proximity between you and the dog and whether you use hand gestures or not.
The speaker gave the dog a command from a distance. The dog paid attention but not in the same way he did when the command was given from only three feet away. He used hand gestures with no voice to command the dog to do certain things. These are additional pres-sures dogs respond to that use no force.
The speaker had several other dogs sitting in the back and the young dog in the front wanted to go back there and play with them. He had the dog sit half way back and when the young dog got ex-cited and started to move toward the other dogs, he commanded the dog to sit. What the handler wanted was to keep the dog from going to the other dogs, but instead of using the “here” command, which the dog might have disregarded, he used the sit command, got compliance and then issued another “here” command and got the same result. The dog did not go to the other dogs. The speaker called this indirect pressure. This is the use of one lesser-related command to get the desired result, which was the dog not going to the back of the room. The speaker achieved this by using the sit com-mand instead of the hear command. I struggled to convey this process in words for you.
I felt good that I under-stood most of what he was trying to get across. It was fun and kind of energized me to get outside and do some more work with my three musketeers. Now it is going to snow so I will have to wait to implement what I have recently refreshed in my mind.
Dog training is a very sat-isfying effort and I take every opportunity to listen to, and learn from, other trainers in an effort to be-come the best dog trainer I can be. It just goes to show that every trainer — regard-less of skill level — still has a lot to learn.
Scott Rall is the Daily Globe’s outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.