Rule: If you want to train a dog for sports, build drive.
I must at this point go back and address my initial post about the Monks of New Skete book. As I’ve mentioned before, I am no professional or expert. I am stumbling my way through and making a lot of mistakes on the way, then recounting what I am learning from the more experienced as I go. The Monks of New Skete and many other training books are directed at people who just want a nice companion dog and have no interest in dog sports. Most people don’t plan on taking time every day to train their dog or try to get a title in some dog sport. If you are a companion pet person, Monks of New Skete and all the popular training methods out there are for you. Probably the most popular figure in the dog world is Ceasar Milan, and his show is also geared at people who just want their dog to behave and be a calm and enjoyable companion. Now, I never thought that this version of how to raise a dog would be so opposite from what I am learning about Schutzhund and agility dogs.
Building drive is a term that I have heard over and over since starting to get into these dog sports. This is a term that I didn’t think about a few months ago and if I did, I thought of it in terms of, oh no, prey drive! What I have been taught now by both Schutzhund and Agility people alike is that drive is key in all this training and that many of the conventional dog rearing techniques actually diminish a dog’s drive and therefore ability to excel in a dog sport.
Why the disconnect? As I’ve understood it so far, there may be a give and take especially when the dogs are young. The Schutzhund club members actually said they like their dogs to be “barely tolerable” until they get over a year. “Barely tolerable” is not what the average family is looking for in a dog, nor what the average person is capable of handling. The drive makes it easier to train the dogs in dog sports as it channels that drive into constructive and permissible activities, aka, the sport. In a companion dog environment with less experienced owners, letting a dog’s drive take over without tempering it with training and sport can turn into a domestic tornado and dogs going to the pound. We don’t want dogs going to the pound! We want dogs with nice homes, living comfortably! So, Ceasar, the Monks, and others are right to discourage a lot of dominant and drive building games that those interested in dog sports work hard at building.
Where I screwed up. I followed every rule to bring up a nice, well-behaved companion dog and in the process broke every rule for bringing up a working dog prospect. I was so proud that Lizzie passed her AKC CGC (canine good citizen) test at 6 months, but when I told the working club guy that he said “I’ll try not to hold that against you.” UGH?!!! I simply didn’t know any better and I didn’t realize I’d enjoy these sports until after I had my dogs. The most serious screw up is with tug-of-war. I had it so ingrained from the books and shows that tug-of-war = disaster. Apparently that is the case for many people. I went with the “if you play tug of war, you better win” method as well as the “DROP IT” immediately command. I’m sure anybody in the dog sport department will groan at that one. So from the time Lizzie was 2-5 months I fought with her daily and made sure I always won. She would look me in the eye and hold on to whatever it was she had and put up a great puppy fight that frustrated me to no end, but I was more relentless that she was. I even used the “coins in a can” method to get her to let go. To explain, a .38 doesn’t phase Lizzie but The Can is like nails on a blackboard, she HATES it. I found that I could not stop her from ANYTHING by the Monks’ “grab her by the scruff and shake with a firm NO” suggestion. Oh no. That was the start of a fight I would lose. But The Can is the Lizzie nemesis. So after two months of daily battles, I achieved perfect companion dog behavior. If my hand goes on it and I say drop, drop it and don’t tug, because if you tug you’ll just lose and feel like a defeated loser dog.
What I really achieved. A dog with almost no toy drive. JUST GREAT. I’ve been working the last two months to rebuild toy drive, but I can still see that imprinted hesitation when she strikes at a toy, tug or rag. I can see her look at me or whoever else is playing with this look like, “when is the dreaded can coming?” I know if I hadn’t spent so much effort in killing that behavior she would be tugging like crazy. I still haven’t gotten her to really put her body weight into a really good tug. Per club instructions, I started the rebuilding process by “back-tying” her to a tree and getting her to get really excited about a raccoon tail that I had attached to a fishing pole. This way, I wasn’t so close to it and she could feel comfortable really going for it. After two weeks of this, her drive went from zero to 50. Then she just planed. She will chase and grab at her toys and pull with about 50% of her strength. The club members are skeptical that she will ever go beyond this level of drive and they are not sure she will have the nerve to do protection at all. I’m now also not sure how much of her behavior is genetic and how much is inflicted by me. I guess the only thing I can do is keep trying and see what happens after 6 months to a year. She may have reached her genetic potential, which is ok too.