Tuesday, July 21, 2009
By Ruthie Bently
I grew up with a saying “You can get more flies with honey than vinegar.” Did you know that you can train a dog with kindness and compassion and get better results than when you try to browbeat them? I got my first American Staffordshire Terrier as a Christmas present on December 27th, 1981. He was a great dog and he is gone now, but he taught me several valuable lessons. One of them was to go with my own instincts as to how I trained my dog.
Growing up, I was familiar with dogs and choke chains. I was bothered with the “choking” factor, but it was an accepted way to train dogs in the 1960s and 1970s. With Nimber I learned that AmStaffs, though stubborn as a donkey (this is the polite word), were also capable of being sensitive. Sounds funny doesn’t it? I never knew the dog I got could be a prima donna.
Nimber and I got through his puppy training class and he was pretty well behaved when I gave him commands, so I wasn’t sure about continuing on with training classes. I wanted a companion who paid attention to what I told him and did what I asked him to do. Nimber did about 75% of the time, and I wasn’t really looking forward to going back to class. Nimber didn’t really like school and I couldn’t blame him; I hated school when I was young, why should he be any different.
Nimber and I were going along fine, and I found I needed to go out of town and couldn’t take him with me. OK, not a big deal; I had a great kennel. They would feed his regular food, supplements and give him biscuits for being good. When I scheduled his stay, I was asked if I wanted training time. They explained that it would be a refresher course for Nimber and wouldn’t cost extra. So I said “Sure, why not?” What a jerk I was. The owner of the kennel was a trainer, but unfortunately not Nimber’s trainer. Her husband who was used to dealing with police canine units was Nimber’s trainer. That was my mistake.
I went to pick Nimber up when I got home, and interrupted a training session. My four-legged child, who knew my vehicle by its sight and sound, my smell and all the canine triggers a dog has at their disposal, knew I was there before he could see me, and he reacted. So did the trainer, he grabbed Nimber’s ear and pinched it between his finger and the chain of the choke collar Nimber was wearing for the training session. I was out of the car by this point and saw Nimber yelping, blood beginning to seep from his ear, and a masochist trainer still holding Nimber’s ear in a pinch. I very politely went over to him and got my dog before he could do any more damage to my dog’s body or spirit. I paid my bill, took my poor dog home and never went back.
What this taught me was to check into whose care I am putting my beloved pets, no matter how well I think I know them. It also made me look for alternative forms of training for subsequent dogs. I have read numerous books on training since then and have used the techniques I found within. Through this process, I also learned that you don’t have to bully a dog into doing what you want them to do. When you treat them with kindness and respect, they will give you back the moon.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently