Saturday, February 14, 2009

Say It Out Loud

I hesitated to post this, lest it sound whiny and self-absorbed. I don't want that! But if this blog is about my thoughts and experiences training, and the following are indeed part of my thoughts on training, then here goes....

Today during training, a club member asked me about some behavior he saw in the dog working at that time. I answered with my observations. He asked about the behavior's origins in puppyhood, and I answered again. Where it seemed I might be commenting on the handler personally, I specified, "This is not to sound judgmental about [the handler], I love her to death, but if that were my puppy, this is how I would do things."

Of course, the dog is not a puppy -- she's several years old -- and the handler didn't have this dog as a puppy anyway. Obviously moot point for that dog, but the question related to his own puppy, so it had some relevance.

But someone else, returning to where we sat, saw us speaking quietly. "Say it out loud!" he ordered, taking me by surprise. "Whatever it is, say it out loud!"

I stammered something, worrying he thought I was talking smack about the handler. I wasn't. And the person who called me out explained that he had just seen too many clubs hurt by gossip, even if it was only perceived gossip. But after all was said and done, it got to me thinking.

Dangerous, that.

The point today was that we didn't want anyone to think we were talking bad about someone else. Would I want someone talking about me? Thing is, I know people talk about me, now. I do overhear conversations behind my back or get private emails. Sometimes it's good -- I'm really pleased when I hear that someone finds the blog inspiring or helpful in their own training. Sometimes it's not so good -- protestations that I think I'm the world's best trainer, or that I have a nice dog, shame about the wacky handler. I've had people say that the sport of Schutzhund itself is cruel and no dog-loving trainer would ever even try it (clearly an ignorant opinion). I had someone write to accuse me of lying on a training discussion list. That hurt, even though the accusation was fairly idiotic.

People talk. That's nothing new. I should probably be grateful that I even merit their time. ;)

Yesterday, someone asked me how I handled being a clicker trainer at a competition venue where people are jerking and scruffing and punishing their dogs. I said that I will talk with some people who seem to want to talk, but I don't go looking for fights. "Shut up and show off," I said. I don't need to vindicate and proselytize, I need to train my dog. When they want what we have, I'll share.

Not that we're always a prime example. Today as I was trying to determine my day's training plan, a friend asked me to complete the sentence, "I wish Laev would...." I finished, "Pass the stinkin' Schutzhund 1!" Obviously, I'm still a little bitter. I'll admit, I cried when she failed. Heck, I sobbed on the way home. That was a tough week for me even before Laev flunked and humiliated me, and yes, I cried. And it further bothered me when someone said that we failed because I was a clicker trainer.

We failed because I had a hole in my training. Incomplete training is incomplete, no matter what kind of training it is. Laev was the only Schutzhund entry that day; I never stood up and said that another dog wasn't ready to even try because they use physical corrections. That would be just ridiculous as well as incredibly rude.

The saying goes that the only thing two trainers can agree on is what the third trainer is doing wrong. :) Steve White, whom I greatly respect, told a story of watching another trainer working a dog. It included techniques which Steve didn't use and found silly. He said he was just starting to feel superior when another trainer commented, "Hm, obviously that's been working for him."

That comment interrupted Steve's judgmental attitude, and I think it's a very valid one. We are lazy creatures; we don't do things that don't pay off in some way. Sometimes methods are more effective short-term than long-term, or sometimes the inverse, but we don't invest time and energy in something with no payback. Training is the same way. I don't like to hear clicker trainers bash traditional coercive training with "it doesn't work" because the truth is that it DOES work for many (not all) dogs. If not, it wouldn't have made it this far.

The fact that I think I have something better doesn't mean that the alternative has no validity.

Still, there's a lot of pressure to perform. This blog seemed like a good idea 'til I found myself posting about mistakes and failures. ;-) And when I'm trying to demonstrate TAGteach and I keep using improper language -- me, the instructor, the so-called expert -- it's frustrating. Someone pointed out an error today and I answered, "Yep, my dog and I aren't perfect!" And I don't think we are. But I do think that sometimes there's a higher standard. But so what? If I let that get to me, whose fault is that?

So say it out loud. If someone thinks I'm doing something right, great! If someone thinks I'm stupid, or a liar, or a person who manipulates this blog to make myself look good (right, sure, that's where my posts about failing the trial or being the worst tracklayer ever come from!) then oh well. It won't be anything new, saying that I'm screwing up my training.

But let's be honest. I don't pretend to have all the answers, and I don't pretend that I have perfect training. I just intend to do the best I know how to do. That's all any of us can do.

In other news -- Laev's obedience during bitework is getting shoddy. She isn't loading properly when we start but wants to wait 'til she sees the helper to get excited and focused. We can't have that. She's also losing precision. Grrr. I'll be making training plans for a while....


Dana said...

Thanks for speaking out about this one! I think it's hard to argue methodology in the dog training world, especially when you've set yourself up for the tremendous (and awesome!) challenge that you have.

Many Schutzhund handlers can benefit from the tremendous amount of experience that trainers have accumulated in years of using traditional training on dog after dog after dog. You don't have half as many opportunities: some trainers aren't willing to help you at all, and even the ones who are often haven't ever trained a Schutzhund dog the way you are working with Laev.

I really like how honest you are with this blog, and with your training successes and challenges with Laev. I think it says wonderful things about you as a human being and as a dog owner. Does it run the risk of casting doubts about the effectiveness of clicker training? I guess so, sometimes...but to me, that's a risk that is well worth running, in order to preserve your integrity and the accuracy of your accounts.

That said, I'm biased in your favor. I think of myself as a clicker trainer, and I have always been fascinated by your blog and your goals with Laev. Having read about your challenges with her, I know I could never have gotten even as far as you have with her - I would have given up, and that would have been sad for me, and especially sad for Laev.

I hope you keep up both the blog and the training! I really enjoy hearing how things are going, even when I know you hope they were going better.

Connie said...

I still want to be you when I grow up!

Shawndra said...

Me too, what Connie said!