Thursday, February 24, 2011

Choose the right trainer for your dog

First of all a little disclaimer... it's Reading Week (i.e. Spring Break for all you American friends) hence all the free time for blogging. I'll be lucky to make an entry a week after this. :( Summit and I have also had a lot going on recently, so lots to write about!

We had our second obedience class last night, and the experience made me remember how important it is to find a trainer/obedience school that is right for you and your dog.

I chose the obedience school we attend because the head trainer was recommended to me by a friend. I had actually attended her final agility class with her and her two dogs, so I'd met this trainer and seen her working with the dogs. I really liked her and how flexible she was. She acknowledges that you know your dog best. She gives suggestions and pointers but doesn't have the idea that her way is the only way to do things.

We had a great lesson last week. Summit was really on fire and willing to work really hard anddo lots of repetitions. Yesterday he was a bit off all day. He didn't want to train in the morning at all really. He was better that evening at class but still not really at his best. In his defense he's had a long couple of days. On Tuesday he had x-rays taken of his foot to confirm that the swollen toe I noticed at Christmas was just an old injury and not osteosarcoma. His initial x-rays taken 3 weeks ago were inconclusive. The second time around the news was better. It's definitely just an old injury. The reason this actually all came up was because I was having him enrolled in the blood donor program, and they decided to make sure the swelling wasn't cancerous (which would disqualify him from the program obviously). Since his x-rays were clean I was called and asked to bring him in the next day (Wednesday) to donate because they were very short on blood. So yesterday he was in for his first blood donation, and a few hours later we went to class. So he had a tough couple of days and I can't blame him for being a little off. Unfortunately, our trainer's daughter had just suffered a concussion. She had one of her other trainers teach the class instead.

Now, the supply teacher seems like a good trainer, but I just don't think she's right for us. First of all, I don't think she's ever worked with or knows much about sighthounds. But maybe I'm just bitter because she kept making comments or jokes which basically implied that greyhounds are dim. I was disappointed that Summit was not at his best because that would have shut her up for sure. However, I was amused when she borrowed him for a demonstration and couldn't get him to sit (he just stared at her) and she made a comment about how he wasn't much of a sitter (she had seen him sit earlier in the class), and after handing him back to me I asked him to sit and he did so instantaneously. Maybe I shouldn't be proud of the fact that my dog only listens to me, but gosh if I wasn't just about livid with all the "greyhounds are dumb" implications.

Summit: Do I look dumb to you?

But beyond my own bitterness or irritation, although I was elated that we did manage to get him through the tunnel this week, I was not overly thrilled with her initial approach. We did everything almost exactly as we did the previous week with our regular trainer (trainer holding dog at entrance of tunnel, tunnel shortened as much as possible, me lying in the tunnel from the other side with treats luring him in) however our regular trainer doesn't try to force Summit. She prevents him from trying to run away or run around the tunnel to get to me, but she doesn't keep a heavy hand on his collar or force his head into the tunnel. This trainer did. I felt she was putting far too much pressure on his collar trying to keep his head in the tunnel once we got him that far (he would get his head and shoulders in and then would sort of panick and back out in a hurry) and it just caused him to statue, which I think is a pretty normal reaction for a greyhound compared to many other breeds. I was just about to tell her to stop and I'd work on him again later, when she came up with a better idea. What we eventually did was send my friend's dog through first and Summit seemed to say, "Well, gosh, if that little bugger can do it, I can't let him outdo me".

I guess the point of this very long post is to make sure your trainer is right for you and your dog and that you are comfortable with their training methods. If you ever feel uncomfortable or you know that something isn't working for your dog, you should say so. To me the hallmark of a good trainer is their ability to acknowledge that you know your dog better. If their method isn't working for you and your dog, a good trainer should have another method to suggest or be creative enough to come up with something else for you to try, and NOT insist that you're doing it wrong, or your dog is dumb/stubborn/whatever else.

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