General Thoughts on Training

From Marilyn Fender, (

Just a few notes on a general approach to training... you don't have to be in a 40 foot square ring to do effective training that will produce a high scoring dog in the obedience ring. Once you have the target behavior acquired and up to an automatic/fluent level... it is useful to train in all sorts of places. After all, that is what we are really talking about with an obedience trained dog...a dog that should be able to exhibit the behaviors anywhere under most any conditions. The "obedience ring" is just a common ground where the playing field is leveled where we can exhibit the skills we have taught the dogs under standardized judgement. The playing field being level refers to the fact that the dogs are judged under commonly agreed upon standard conditions in a standard envionment. Wouldn't it be fun to see obedience competition expanded someday to situations where you would have no idea what would be asked based on some common skills and you would have to heel on either side on command and the jumps wouldn't all look the same etc.? Might be hard to judge, but would really demonstrate some advanced obedience.

From Morgan Spector, (

Always remember that your dog is a sentient being, not only skin and bone and muscle and sinew, but a complex of emotions and mental processes. The instinct to be with and serve humans is in all dogs. That's why we call them "domesticated." But how that instinct has been formed through breeding and how it is expressed in any given dog is not anything you can determine by reference to the pedigree. It's in the dog. It will be different in each dog. You have to find it.

You can analogize it to the task of an artist. The unknown dog is your raw material, just as clay or marble or oil paints are the raw material with which the artist works. You wouldn't pick up a hammer and chisel if you were going to form a pot from clay. So, who is that beast at the other end of the leash? What is the "raw material" there? What tools are appropriate for the raw material that is your dog? To some extent you can find this out through the training process itself. But to some extent it takes something deeper, something different. The Monks of New Skete called it "in-seeing." I don't think they explained it any better than I can. I find it in the quiet time I get with my dogs grooming them, or having a TTouch session, or a few seconds of quiet, calm eye contact. Moments when I can just get in sensory touch with the dog himself. Moments when there is no pressure, nothing is expected, and something like pure feeling can pass from one to the other.

I have found that once I achieve that quiet communion with my dogs, everything changes. I have become attuned to my dog, and now we can really communicate. The dog's trust, confidence, biddability improve. And somehow, I can "hear" what the dog is telling me in a training or social situation while the message is still very subtle. And the more I have done this with my own dogs, it has helped me see into new dogs as well.

I don't know if that makes any sense or not. I suppose it sounds all very new-agey. But it is fundamental to what I do and how I do it and these semi-mystical ramblings are the best I can do by way of articulating it.

From Richard A. Strong, (

The serious competitor must have their goals set from the beginning, planning and executing from day . OR he must have someone guiding them who can provide the benefits of "a" above. To get to the HIT/OTCh type performance, there's as much avoiding letting the dog learn bad habits as there is teaching them the good ones. Most training problems in dogs have been inadvertently trained in by the handler. I call this unintentional training. Most new trainers don't have a clue they are doing these things. That's why guidance is important. In most cases, you can't go Novice A to OTCh on your own, unless you have the benefits of experience.

Many trainers tend to train on a "reactive" basis. In other words, they allow a problem to occur for a period of time before they do anything about it. This complicates the training progression. The ideal way to get to your competitive goals is to approach training on a "proactive" basis, not placing your dog in a position to learn improper responses or at worst, heading them off as they occur. To be able to do this, you have to have that image of perfection in your mind that judges are always talking about. You don't always get that result, but at least you're trying for them.

You're seriously damaging your chances of getting to the HIT/OTCh level with a poor start in training. Heeling is one of the first things many trainers formally teach their dogs. Heeling is the foundation for all obedience. It's the beginning of the strong bond you will need to work with your dog in all exercises. A dog that doesn't heel well will most likely have complications in many of the other exercises. And heeling is the first thing you do in the ring at each of the three levels of competition.


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