Dog's Eye View: Relevancy — What makes training work for you and your dog

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I was at a dog obedience training seminar about 30 years ago that was presented by Milo Pearsall, an American Kennel Club obedience trial judge who also was a well known trainer and author.

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Sandra Kruczek

Dog's Eye View

This weekly column about dog training publishes on Fridays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

Pearsall was an excellent competitor in the sport, but more than that, he was an innovator in the world of training and behavior. He was one of the first proponents of early puppy training, something we now expect as part of our puppy’s education.

I was a competitor in the AKC obedience trial world at the time and, as now, was seeking additional knowledge about how to be a better trainer. Very few of the small details of those two days still are in my repertoire, but there was one thing that stood out to me above all others.

AKC obedience trials at that time were focused on precision, almost military style drill type behavior performed by the dog. Even the owner/trainers conducted themselves in a very stiff and non-verbal way.

The rules did not allow any physical contact with the dog during an exercise. We barked out commands to our dogs and gave no encouragement to them during each part of the exercise until the terse, “exercise finished” order came from the judge.

We could then pet them and say, “Good boy”. The judge numerically scored each facet of the performance with points deleted for every mistake.

Here’s what happened. Pearsall related an incident that changed his life (and mine) forever.

He’d just come from a judging assignment at a large obedience trial in the Midwest. There was a dog and owner duo there that he scored 100 percent. This actually was a very rare occurrence. He told us that he was amazed at the perfection that these two displayed. He said that he’d only given a perfect score once or twice in all the years that he’d been judging.

Later, he was invited to a dinner with many other obedience fans that was given at the home of this perfect duo. When he knocked on their door, he heard the most awful barking and yelling going on inside the house.

The “perfect dog” was totally uncontrollable inside the house. The owner/competitor wound up holding the dog back by his collar while she helped the Pearsall get past him and into the house.

Pearsall was shocked and mortified. He said to us that if it was possible, he would’ve rescinded that perfect score. He’d never seen such a disconnect between performance training and daily living with a dog in all of his years.

Our training classes have for years included the essential understanding of “relevancy." The foundation behaviors of “sit," “settle down," “come here," “wait," “off-take it” and “walk with me” among others are first learned separately and then integrated completely into the dog’s and owner’s daily life.

For training to become imbued into every facet of life, it needs to become relevant to life. This way, these skills are practiced in practical and useful scenarios every day.

“Sit” quietly for leashing up or petting is so helpful. “Wait” in the car while a door is opened may save his life. Asking your dog to “settle down” on his mat while you work at your computer or drink a latte at the local coffee shop is just plain heaven.

These foundation skills are pretty impressive to see when they are practiced and performed wherever the dog/owner team is. This makes for a very happy, secure dog and owner.

Sandra Kruczek is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer at Total Teamwork Training for more than 25 years and can be contacted at www.totalteamworktraining.com.

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