I learned something today about my dog and about the way that I train my dogs that I found really surprising. I think it will help me be a better trainer, and it will certainly help make my dog happier during training.
I've been taking Rusty to weekly training sessions for months now, and the main focus of our training is actually socialisation. Rusty had had plenty of socialisation with other Border Collies so he know very well how to be a Border Collie, but he needed to learn how to be a dog. What I mean by that is that frivolous over-excited behaviour from other dogs, or undignified rolling on a dog's back, or any non-Border Collie-like behaviour freaked him out. He is learning fast that dogs behave in many different ways and that is okay.
Training Buddy was totally different - my Labrador was and is bombproof; nothing freaks him out. However he took the training part of training much lighter than taking every opportunity to fraternise with other dogs and people, so by contrast Rusty has taken to the actual tasks like a duck to water. I have in the main behaved towards Rusty as I behave towards Buddy during training, and that was a mistake; they are very different dogs so why should I treat them the same? This was brought home to me in no uncertain terms today.
It was our last training session before Christmas so it was a little different, and for the first three or four minutes we were allowed to do any behaviours we chose with our dogs to settle them down and switch them on. I did some twists and spins and sent Rusty through an agility tunnel. We did some heelwork and he was doing so well that I was smiling as I told him to lie down, and then as I took a step away and said, "Stay." Usually when I put him into a down stay and step away he looks mournfully at me, and within seconds follows me, or he rolls on his back as if to invite me back. Today as I smiled at him, he wagged his tail and stayed put. I tried it again with the same result, and slow and unperceptive human than I am, Rusty had finally taught me something very important.
You see with Buddy I deliver a stern, "Stay!" and give him a firm hand signal, and to my well-balanced Labrador this is water off a duck's back, and he stays happily in a down stay even though he would rather run off and have fun. But for Rusty, this was too much and he was following me or showing me behaviour begging me not to leave him, and more than that not to be displeased with him - which I now realise is how he saw my behaviour. My smile told him I was not displeased with him, and so he was happy to stay put and wait for me to come back.
It wasn't a magic wand, but it was a huge step along the road to understanding and motivating him. I wanted a Border Collie because I wanted to experience a very different breed from a Labrador and I wanted to learn. Well that is just what I am doing, but it has not been an easy path, my learning curve has been steep, and to be honest I have shed many tears. So let me share with you two lessons that I have now taken to heart:
1. Be careful what you wish for!
2. Smile at your dog!