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Minor problemsMon, 22 May 2017Dog behaviourDog training
So this is my first blog. When I asked what they are for, I was told like a diary. Well a diary for me is my life and until fifteen years ago, my life and my work were separate things. Long gone are those days. I share my life with my dogs, I work with dogs, most phone calls are about dogs, most of my reading is about dogs and no social function passes but several people want to talk about their dogs. So my life is dogs and my work is dogs so a blog makes sense.
This past week has been a strange one. I had visited a client with a young five month old pup who liked to jump up and snap at your face. Like a growing number of clients, his owners where lost and confused about how to tackle this problem. They had employed a trainer who had more letters after their name (saw the card) than you could shake a flirt pole at. She was a member of a number of associations and a nice young girl according to the owners. None the less, they were left feeling like bad owners and unable to get on top of the problem. This case is not an isolated incident and makes us question the value of being a member of these associations. Please do not misunderstand me, I have nothing against any association or being a member of one. If I had not seen a rise in confused and demotivated owners over the last few years, who had paid a great deal of money to trainers who waved their membership of an association as a flag of qualification and told owners to avoid anyone who is not a member like the plague as they are likely “old fashioned” ” force based training”, I would not mention it.
This trend sort of started when the strutting peacock calling himself the Dog Whisperer appeared on the scene and quite rightly there was a backlash against his methods. Yet because I am not a member of any association, I am tarred with the same brush. My whole life I have not joined anything, be it unions, clubs, or associations. This does not mean I stopped learning, in fact it is easier now with the internet and the access to research it gives you. So, a degree in animal management training and counselling (Chester Uni 2010) and forty years learning, ( not mentioning other academic animal related qualifications) count for nothing unless you are in their club. I am sorry, I have a built in moral code and do not need guidelines to tell me how I should train. An association membership does not guarantee experience and we all know that experience is the best teacher.
I have added an example of life and it’s application of consistency below, enjoy.
In the mid eighties, I was living in the North East of Scotland and as with many places, the best way to find out how a community worked, was to find a local pub and spend some time getting to know the locals.
Now, I was lucky and met a man that has remained a very good friend since that time. He was working behind the bar of the Harbour Bar in Macduff and went by the name of Big Jim. Big Jim was helping the bar owner, a slight man with thick glasses and a very dry sense of humour, who went by the name of Dod (George). The bar was frequented by a mix of ex-fishermen, current fishermen and assorted characters, so much of the talk was of the sea and fish prices. There was no dart board, no pool table and especially no television in the bar, the only games allowed were cribbage or dominoes. There was also an unofficial game and league table of peanut chewing. Peanut chewing was open to anyone who did not have a tooth in their head and had only one rule, the first to chew the peanut was the winner. I have seen some things over the years but watching two toothless drunk men trying to bite a peanut must rank up there as one of the funniest. It would not be allowed today, as peanuts shooting from the gums of the contestants, would be seen as a health and safety risk !
Dod may have been a slight man, standing about five eight, however, he was no shrinking violet. He was opinionated and knew no fear. He would happily physically throw anyone from the bar if they broke the rules, or in some cases disagreed with him. His Achilles heel was his wife Vera, a thin bird- like woman, who always dressed in a white blouse, black jacket and black skirt. Vera was a leading member of the local kirk and disapproved of most things that involved joy. In particular, she was dead set against any form of swearing and believe me, Vera could wither the soul of any man with her disapproving look. The result of this, was a ban on any form of swearing in the bar and there was not a man who had avoided being thrown out for committing this crime, including myself.
Dod had been given a Mynah bird by one of the lads and very quickly it had been christened Vera by the regulars. As you will know, Mynah birds are good mimics, so a plan was hatched to teach the bird to talk. Big Jim and myself , when Dod had turned his back, would lean towards the cage. This would result in Dod turning quickly towards us and telling us in no uncertain terms, not to teach that bird to talk, in fact his words were ” don’t you teach that f***king bird to swear “, we would then lean away from the cage, protesting our innocence. It was not long before most of the locals would do the same when they came up to the bar and Dod’s response would always be the same. Of course, the result was that he was asked if swearing was allowed as he was doing it and would it mean he was going to bar himself, like he had done to so many of us. It was not long before Dod had ceased to see the funny side of this question and had begun to respond with “ I will set Vera on you”.
The weeks passed and nothing was uttered from the Mynah bird but still Big Jim and I carried on leaning towards the cage to a familiar response. One Sunday afternoon, we were sitting in the bar when Vera and a few of her followers from the kirk came trooping through the door, gathering at the end of the bar before going upstairs. They looked like they were trying to hold fifty pence pieces between the cheeks of their arse, while sucking on a lemon, with disapproval written all over their faces.
Dod scuttled over to Vera and opened the bar door to let her and the disapproving group upstairs. At this, l leaned towards the Mynah bird. Dod shot me a glare, the bird on the other hand, in a perfect imitation of Dod’s voice shouted “Don’t you teach that F**king bird to swear”, slight pause, ” I will set Vera on you”. It then repeated the first phrase again.
Dod rushed towards the bird and threw a towel over the cage, silencing the previously mute bird. The bar was in an uproar of laughter and the kirk group now stood in open mouthed disbelief as Vera furiously tried to shepherd them upstairs.
As a result, Big Jim and myself received a three week ban and the bird was always covered when Vera was in residence. Dod wanted to blame us but it was obvious to one and all that it was his voice, so he had taught the bird to swear not us. The whole exercise was a bet between Big Jim and I. I had said that we could get Dod to teach the bird to talk by not saying a word to it, rather by using our body language to illicit a response from him. As long as that response was consistent, it would not be long before the bird talked. I won the bet and it was the tastiest bag of bacon crisps I have ever eaten.
The method of consistency to the same signal, is a powerful tool for any trainer, that will create a reflex response for the rest of the animal’s life. Remember to use one signal for one behaviour, not a number of words for the same behaviour. Keep it simple, consistent, be patient and success will come. Last I heard, if you go to the Harbour Bar in Macduff and lean towards the cage of the Mynah bird, it will still use that infamous phrase but be warned, if Dod sees you, you are likely to get flicked with a bar towel and told to get out before reaching the cage.