How do training classes help you cope with real-life situations? With increasing restrictions in society on where we take dogs and also a perceived increase in the number of out of control dogs that pose a risk to society, its important that training classes address the real needs of dogs and their owners – to integrate safely into society and be good ambassadors for their species.
The Kennel Club Good Citizen scheme was set up to to teach owners how to train their dogs with key skills that they will need to be a Good Citizen. However the tests have been criticised for not fully addressing ‘real life scenarios’. John Rogerson, among others, argues for testing in public places with real-life distractions and scenarios.
Taking your dog to training classes and passing tests conducted in training halls should not be seen as the end goal but the starting point. Whatever scheme your club runs and wherever you train, this should primarily be seen as teaching you the skills to train your dog. And that training should take place in all the places you need your dog to go and be well-behaved.
Whenever you first teach your dog something it should be in a safe environment with very few distractions. This is usually in your home. Classes (as long as they are well run) are a good way to introduce very minor distractions. There are other people and dogs around, but because everyone is there to train their dogs as well, it makes it easier for your dog to concentrate on you rather than them, and ‘learn to learn’ in a group, as well as individually. They will get used to other dogs being around, but still needing – and wanting – to pay attention to you, rather than them.
Once your dog has learnt the skills in these safe, controlled environments, the real training begins! The same things must be practiced in the street, in other people’s houses and buildings, on the beach, in the park, in town, at the agility show…
John Rogerson’s proposed public access good citizen test includes asking the dog to stay in a relaxed sit or down for an hour, as they may be asked to do if you go to a cafe or pub with your dog. If your dog has never been taught to do this, how should we expect them to know when we first take them out in public? And ‘Leave’ taught with enticing food dropped from the table in the same location.
Recall and Stay can be a lot harder in public areas. However, we should be reasonable about where we expect our dogs to stay out of sight from us. I would not advise leaving your dog out of sight in a public place due to the risk of dog theft and unsupervised children or others approaching and worrying your dog.
Whatever scheme you choose to train your dog with, its up to the owner to train, then train again in lots of different scenarios to help the dog to generalise.
Remember if you want your dog to know what something means, you must be clear about it. If you allow ‘special circumstances’ then don’t be surprised if your dog decides that Stay doesn’t count… if someone walks in, or if someone drops a bit of food, or if he is outside….
Here is one example of how to gauge how well your dog understands a command.
Can your dog sit?
Can your dog sit if you say the word once or give the hand gesture once?
Can your dog sit while you move away from him?
While you jog on the spot in front of him for 5 seconds?
At the side of you rather than moving automatically to the front to sit?
While you walk around them? (This is very tricky for many dogs!)
If you are sitting or lying down when you give the cue?
If the answer to any of those is No… then how well does your dog truly know what Sit means?