Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Goals in dog training

I have been sitting on this post for awhile. Letting the thoughts on it percolate as it were. But I am getting more and more annoyed as time goes by. I keep reading on some blogs the opinion of how trainers aren't any good unless they compete with their dogs through to a certain level in AKC events. I find that simply insulting. To me it equates as you can't teach a drivers education class unless you race in the Daytona 500. Wha...??? Perhaps overly dramatic but you get my point.

I think it comes down to what your goals are with your dogs. When you are looking for a trainer you need to find one that is qualified in what you want to teach your dog to do. Do you need behavior help or training help? (there can be a difference) Do you want to compete in specific events with your dog? Do you just want to teach good manners? Do you want to socialize your dog?

I have competed a little in the obedience ring. We did ok but it wasn't something I found all that much fun to do with my dog. And to be honest competing gives me the willies. I'm not sure why as I am not a shy person and do not get stage fright. I also have at least one dog that would fly though easily if I was interested. I am considering trying more Rally O someday as it seems much more realistic and fun than AKC obedience. You get to talk to your dogs during the course which I like. (And I have stewarded at many AKC shows in obedience for the local kennel club I am a member of so yes I do know what I am talking about.)

To say I am not a qualified trainer because I do not compete or haven't finished a dog in a sport seems short sighted. You can come to my house and see how my dogs act. You can watch me in public walking my dogs, or see us hanging out in the local dog store. Judge me for how I work with my dogs or how I work with clients dogs. Judge me for how my dogs behave. Judge me for the results my clients get with their dogs or how effective I am in getting the information to them. Just please, judge me for what I do, not what I don't do.

I work hard to continue my education in training methods and learning as much about canine behavior as possible. I attend seminars, read and work with dogs constantly to keep my skills fresh. If I don't have an answer to a problem, I admit it and find one. If I can't help a client, I refer them to someone who I think can. If they have a puppy I refer them to puppy classes first so their puppy gets the BEST start possible. (my training cannot make up for missed puppy socialization) To me this isn't just a job and an income, it is about helping dogs, no matter how I need to help an owner accomplish that.

So the bottom line is that you, the owner, needs to assess what you want from your dog and find the trainer that can best do that for you. Looking at what titles they have earned in the ring may not always be the best way to chose a trainer. There are many more questions to ask. Find out the methods they use and how their dogs are as family dogs. If you don't know what something means ask for clarification. Ask what they do for fun with their dogs. Find out why they became a trainer in the first place. Do they have any behavior knowledge? Not all trainers do unfortunately. Ask where they got their training to become a trainer. Who did they study with? (google their mentors online if you don't recognise the names they give you) Some self taught trainers are excellent and some are clueless. Not all trainers are created equal. (just like every other profession we have our duds too)

Competing in the obedience ring means teaching a dog a set of skills in a specific setting. But life with a dog is so much more than a few skills in an obedience ring. Sure if I want to drive in the Daytona 500 I should find someone with that experience, that makes sense. But not all of us want to get behind that particular wheel. It certainly doesn't mean we aren't qualified to drive the car.

My point is to ask questions. Got answers you are happy with and find a trainer that understands what you want and can provide that. It is your life with your dog we are talking about after all, one that hopefully will last a very long time.

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray for biscuits at my feet.


Lauren said...

Well put! What I find through my own training is that people need help with their dogs in everyday situations, not the AKC ring. I often help people by creating solutions that AKC might frown out, but work for them. I have trained and competed in the ring (although not in a long time) and in all honesty, most of the stuff doesn't get used much outside of the ring.

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Well said. There are plenty of trainers with high level obedience dogs that I would not take any advice from! I don't think competition results translate into skill necessarily.


just in luv said...

Great post, Marie! I couldn't agree more!

Robin at Mannerly Mutts said...

If you review the graduation video tapes on your blog, and look at what the owner/handler is doing....many very easy things on the handling could have been done to better shape a heel. Going through competition, makes this very clear, and I am not talking about leash corrections but very simple body stance items, and not taking the leash off until you have trained the dog the proper position whether you are using treats, clickers, or something else.

These things are so important in creating an overall partnership and attention to your leadership when out in something more distracting than an empty gym.

Marie said...


It wasn't a graduation tape per say but a video of some progress I wanted to show. (taken weeks before the dog was released from the program I believe, I'll have to go back and look to know for sure) If I remember the handler was pretty new and not the dogs owner. It was a shelter dog in the prison program.

I agree his body should have been straighter and not leaning. You are right. (And the only reason I didn't post this same response from you last time was due to some other comments you made that I felt were argumentitive. I like to avoid conflict whenever possible.)

I did not post the clip to have it picked apart by other trainers. It was simply a short clip I wanted to share. I will certainly be more aware of this tendency of yours from now on. (you can simply e-mail me if you feel you have tips I can use if you feel the need to share)

The dogs we are training are simply being taught skills to help make them more adoptable, not to compete in any venue.

But thanks!

Robin at Mannerly Mutts said...

I had sent a companion comment, perhaps it didn't go through. The idea of getting skills to compete for a trainer, is that more precision and handling skills decreases the training and retraining time.

It also makes a working bond between the dog and owner much stronger, for when those distracting real life situations happen.

Marie said...

Yes but not all owners want to compete. And the idea of practicing those skills over and over in that context alone doesn't appeal to many of them.

I am NOT saying that those who do compete don't have good enough skills to be a trainer. I am simply stating that I believe those who chose not to compete aren't under qualified.

Yes competing can create a strong bond between the dog and handler but that is not the only way to build bonds.

I appoligize to my regular readers for my snide comment to Robin. She and I have a history of trying to debate unsuccessfully in the past. Go to her blog at:

http://mainepets.mainetoday.com/blog.html?id=152080 to read more by Robin.

Specificly :


To see how I became her best friend. I am just really really tired of being her target.

Marie said...


Oh and look at her other site here to. I wouldn't want you to miss the link she has to my own site blasting my skills.

If you read the post BTW it clearly says it is video of him DURING training and doing NEW off leash work.

I must be doing something right if I am such great blog fodder. :-)

Lauren Hinsman said...

I'm so obsessed with my dog that I would tattoo her name on my forehead if my husband wouldn't be repulsed! She and I had a wonderful obedience class experience at Wag It Inc, in Lincolnville and then several private sessions with Marie Finnegan. They are very different trainers but share a common goal of enriching the dog/human relationship. My dog is a rescued mixed breed of unknown origin....most likely Pittie-Hound. She has her hang-ups but our obedience skills need not be tested in the obedience ring. She can walk confidently down a busy sidewalk, be approached by snotty little kids, tolerate female dogs that she really doesn't care for and perform all of the necessary commands in any setting and we have never competed. Blue ribbons are nice to hang on a wall. Yet, I know ALOT of Rally, FlyBall and Obedience champs that could never handle a Christmas parade or downtown NYC. My girl CAN handle it and THAT is our Blue Ribbon. Thanks to Sumac and Marie for teaching me how to help my dog cope with a chaotic world. Thanks for teaching us that our relationship does not depend on breed, age or awards. We are a successful dog/human pair because we practice every day. Thank you.