A Dog’s Eye View: How far we’ve come in 50 years
July 26, 2012
Steamboat Springs — This is a story about my first dog. Bing was 6 weeks old, roly-poly and white with black spots too numerous to count. He had one blue eye and one brown eye. He was a rambunctious rascal of a Dalmatian puppy. I was a young teenager. It was 1955.
I'd read books about different breeds of dogs and thought I'd made the best choice based on appearance and description of breed characteristics. Many breed-specific books also had general information on training methods that were considered acceptable at the time.
Bing was a bold puppy. He had a very independent way about him. I didn't know how to teach him. Back then, it was the general rule that a dog's training was not started until it was at least 6 months old. Today, we start puppy training the day we bring them home. When Bing was 3 months old, I began to realize that "loving" him didn't help him to be a good dog. He soaked up all the love I gave and continued to shred my hands and clothes. He barked until I gave him what he wanted. He wasn't easy to house train. He was rude and pushy with our family members.
When Bing was 6 months old and a strong, athletic adolescent dog, I enrolled in a dog obedience class. I thought this would solve my problems with him at home. We used choke collars and leash-jerking corrections, which were common 50 years ago. We yelled at our dogs. This felt like military training with a drill sergeant barking commands. These methods didn't improve our relationship or his behavior at home. Bing growled at me when I "corrected" him. I was a beginner, and the timing of my corrections wasn't good. Sometimes I jerked the leash when he did the right thing.
Living around Bing wasn't much fun. We made sure he was outside when company came. I'd panic if the doorbell rang unexpectedly. He was touchy and grumpy. He bit every member of my family. As a young adult, I vowed that I'd figure out why my first dog experience went so wrong and that I would never let it happen again. I learned that knowledge is the first key to success.
Reflecting on this story makes me realize how far we've come in the world of canine behavior and learning. Our current knowledge and skills are based on science and research into the how and why of dog behavior. We've turned 180 degrees from collar corrections and pain to teaching our dog what to do rather than waiting for him to make a mistake so he can be "corrected" until he gets it right.
Bing was not a "bad dog." He was a dog that was brought up badly. His temperament, energy and genetic makeup were a terrible match for a young, inexperienced owner. With puppy temperament testing, he'd have been considered a better match for an owner with advanced skills and experience.
Many people think that a dog trainer's dog is perfect or easy. Often, nothing is further from the truth. Certified professional dog trainers and consultants walk the long walk of continuing education, working with all types of canine behavior problems while helping owners. Living with Bing was the first step in my journey. Problematic as it was, his life enriched my life.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training with more than 25 years of experience.