Taking the time it takes
Caroline Fardell of Hound Solutions - ‘Helping You to Help Your Dog’ has kindly agreed to write articles and tips based on her experience with dogs.
She trained with Jan Fennell and works with the owner to develop a better relationship with their dog.
In this first article she talks about time and patience, something we all need with our animals!
I am sceptical of anyone who proclaims to get results with animals within a given time-frame. I have no doubt that results are achieved – and often well. But to claim that you can (for example) 'load any horse in a trailer within twenty minutes' implies that the animal is obliged to work to the handler's timetable. This then exerts a pressure on both handler and horse and does not take the animal's individual needs and temperament into consideration. The boast may also indicate that the handler is using the animal to swell their ego or their bank balance – rather than working to help the horse load in a safe, calm manner, every time it is asked.
So when you take on a dog, put all time-frames out of your mind. Developing a sound relationship and good foundation with your dog will take the time it takes. Occasionally, a biddable, intelligent and quick to learn dog is partnered with a knowledgeable, decisive, calm and consistent owner. But such partnerships are rare and, more often than not, endless patience and endless time is needed when working with a dog.
Our modern world bombards us with instant results. We have super-fast broadband (unless you live in a rural area!), 24 hour news, ipads, twitter and digital cameras; modern technology has taken away the 'waiting-game'. Don't get me wrong – some technology has improved our lives immeasurably. When I was a child, I remember Monday morning wash-day where my poor mother would slave for hours over a steamy twin tub, working her way through the bottomless laundry-basket. Now, we simply pop an armful of washing into the machine, press a few buttons and walk away. But young children who have grown up with time-saving technology and instant results must struggle to understand why it is vital to take time when working with an animal.
I often talk about the importance of a solid foundation with your dog. Obedience training can be layered on top of this foundation if you like, but a foundation is crucial. We would not dream of asking a primary school child to skip his secondary education and go straight to University. It would neither be fair nor successful. However clever an eleven year old child may be, they are not equipped, mentally or emotionally, for all that is thrown at eighteen year old students. And so children go through the years at secondary school, acquiring skills and knowledge that will stand them in good stead for later life. But to return to taking time, it is worth remembering that each dog has an individual temperament and also dogs mature at different rates - this is key to the speed you can take when working with your dog. Let's take dogs and chickens. If you have chickens in the back garden and your dog seems rather keen to have one for lunch, then you need to spend some time showing the dog how you need it to behave around chickens. It hasn't read a 'How I Am Supposed To Behave Around Chickens and Cats' handbook! Remember that the dog is not eyeing up the chickens just to annoy you. It is being a dog and dogs are predators and opportunist feeders. So put your dog on a (long) lead and as soon as it so much as looks at a chicken you take the dog inside the house (without emotion) and walk away for a matter of seconds. This is his consequence of action for, given a choice, he'd rather be with his family. Then bring the dog back out of the house (without emotion or engagement) and settle down. If he looks at the chickens again, you repeat the exercise until the time that the dog comes back outside and settles down with its back to the chickens. He may sigh or yawn (indications that the dog is beginning to relax) and if he shows no interest in the chickens – he can stay with you and can be rewarded for the required behaviour. Now, depending on both the intensity of the dog's chicken obsession, and the skill and timing of the handler, teaching your dog to ignore chickens might take twenty minutes. Or it might take twenty days. It might take two lessons – or it might take two hundred and two.
Sure, there are short-cuts and quicker ways to get your message across, but these usually involve pain or fear. Using pain or fear to teach your dog anything, is a quick fix which usually achieves nothing in the long run, other than the fact that he learns you can – and will – inflict pain and are someone to fear. Dogs cannot learn anything positive when in a state of anxiety or fear. I don't believe this is a sound basis for a happy long term relationship.
So take the time it takes. Pretend you have all the time in the world and see what happens. And if you don't feel you have time, patience or commitment, then get a goldfish.