Big Dogs Don’t Require a Heavier Hand
There is a common misconception that positive reinforcement training is appropriate only for some dogs, you know small dogs or soft dogs but that other dogs require the use of force. I hear people say that all dogs are different and that “no single method works for all dogs”, but the fact is that the positive reinforcement quadrant of learning theory DOES work for all dogs, in fact it works for all animals. The fact is that the larger the animal is the more critical it is to create a cooperative working relationship where the animal actually wants to perform the requested behavior.
I coach people in conformation with all different breeds, of different sizes, with different temperaments and learning styles and I encourage them to use the same basic principle and core philosophy and that is to train primarily with positive reinforcement. It means to adhere to the commitment to “do no harm”, not just harm to the animal but harm to the owner’s relationship with that animal. It is astonishing how many times a new client comes to me with a specific issue that they are having with their dog in the show ring whether it is pacing, sniffing the ground, pulling or moving on the stack that when I show them how to change the behavior they are shocked that we change that without corrections. People will actually ask, “you mean you don’t use corrections?” That is correct, I don’t use corrections, I identify what the dog is doing versus what I want and then I train what I want rather than trying to punish what I don’t want.
I am showing an Irish Wolfhound for a friend and part of the reason I am doing that is that I want people to see that positive reinforcement works with all dogs. I know that people may say, “ah, but it’s a sight hound, they are soft”. People who are used to using traditional methods may find it hard to believe that positive reinforcement can work with large breeds because change is hard and when people are very set in their ways they don’t want to accept that another way could be effective. At a recent dog show I stepped in and offered to help someone who I watched frighten and very roughly handle a young puppy, biting him, shoving him to the ground and poking him while he squirmed and cried. She rejected my offer to help and continued what she was doing to him. The attitude was that I have small dogs and don’t know how to handle bigger dogs or stronger dogs, but that isn’t the case. As I said before, the larger and more powerful the animal the more important cooperation is. It doesn’t matter if I am working with a 5 pound dog or a 180 dog, my core philosophy remains the same and my commitment to train, manage and handle the dog with care and respect remains the intact.
|Vicki with Rumplestiltskin, 11 month old Irish Wolfhound, trained and handled with positive reinforcement|
As we learn more about dogs and how they learn it is important for trainers, handlers, breeders and anyone who works with dogs to stay on top of the current information. While it is true that punishment and force can “work” with some dogs, if there is a way to do it without punishment and force don’t we owe it to the dogs to use the methods that work for them as well as us? I want to share a few stories of large dogs trained with positive reinforcement and who I think are doing a great job of showing people that positive reinforcement works in the show world. What better way to prove something works than to do it and have success as these owner/handlers have.
|Glaukos hangs out at a local restaurant|
Glaukos is Anna’s first show dog and I helped her with his conformation training since she had never had a show dog before. Being a professional trainer and a very competent positive reinforcement trainer she trained Glaukos using the same methods she uses to train other dogs. Glaukos would sometimes pace in the ring and Anna was told that he would never finish unless she put him on a choke chain and corrected him. Refusing to use a choke collar or corrections with Glaukos we came up with training plan for helping Glaukos learn to trot in the ring rather than pace. We taught him how to take off quickly so he would go into a trot instead and she would reinforce him when he trotted. He has always been shown on a leather loop lead rather than a choke. I am proud to say that Glaukos finished his championship this past weekend at the Neapolitan Mastiff National Specialty as well as picking up two Award of Merits along the way. A 180 pound dog trained completely with positive reinforcement and without corrections or aversives.
|Anna and Glaukos in the ring at the national|
|The new champion|
|Olga and Spark in the ring|
|Their connection is clear|
|Spark does obedience as well|
|An impressive stand stay|
|Striking a pose|
|Remy in the Group|
|A show stopping free stack|
|The proof is in the pudding|
|Briscoe asks, “any questions?”|