Stress in training

by Judy Byron

This article first appeared on the e-mail list, obed-comp. Judy gave permission for Heartland Dog Training Club to use it in our newsletter and she gave me permission to share it on this web page as well.

OK, I think I qualify as a "stress" expert. My name is Judy and I train a Whippet.

He has an Am/Can CDX. He had a Dog World Award in novice. He is about ready for utility. He may be the #1 Whippet in obedience for 1996. I don't have the stats yet. I have trained seven other dogs to varying titles including four UDs and a TDX. So I have now set the stage.


I have used all positives to teach Alec. I used them for too long, in my opinion. I did not make him understand he had to do this work. The good news is, that his foundation is fabulous because of the food work. In other words, he knows all the commands through utility and WITHOUT any distractions can perform PERFECTLY! The rub comes when the distractions are introduced. Not all dogs pay attention to what is going on around them, but two groups that come to mind immediately are ALL sighthounds and MOST herding dogs. These dogs were bred to work with their eyes -- as well as their brains and bodies. So, they have to SEE what is going on. Generally, these dogs are also of the more sensitive nature -- that is, giving them a pop on the collar for no good reason will generally shut them down -- sometimes for good.

So we walk the tightrope. By the way, my other dogs were poodles and spaniels -- known for being a little more interested in pleasing their human. By walking the tightrope, here is what I mean. Alec was entered in his first trial in novice when he was about 2-1/2. It was a UKC trial and I was feeling pretty confident. I felt his heeling was nice and he was attentive. BUT, I had never really tested this without the presence of food or toy on my person. I know you will say I should have gotten rid of the food and the toy and you would be right. BUT, I DIDN'T KNOW THIS! ( I was following a couple of fairly new (to me) programs because I knew Whippets traditionally shut down or drag around the ring. And I will stay home rather than train a dog who does not appear happy in the ring. Attitude is where it's at, in my opinion.

Well, Alec was high upon entering the ring, but suddenly someone else was on the end of his string. I was not jumping around. I did not pull out a toy or a piece of food and by the Figure 8, I had NO dog! Oh, his body was there -- somewhere close, but his mind had gone bye-bye! So we struggled through: fortunately he came around the high jump, which I had also failed to proof, so we packed up and went on to train for another day. I do NOT suffer low scores gladly. Please, I am a good sport and practice being one when we flunk, but I would rather flunk working on a 190 and above than pass with a lower score. My goals, not yours.

I was tempted to pull for a few more months and yet was entered the following weekend in an AKC trial. My mentor, Adele Yunck, suggested I get back on the horse ASAP. She was right! She also suggested it was time Alec realized he had to do this work. And he had to pay attention while he was doing the work. Remember now, he knew what all this meant as long as we weren't in a ring!


We made several trips to shopping centers over the next week where he was corrected for inattention -- nothing else -- jackpotted after the session, and showed the following weekend. He scored a 195-1/2 on his way to his Dog World Award in novice and has never looked back. He walked the walk as he was trained to do, but with enthusiasm and attention. Why? Because I had removed any doubt from his mind that he had a choice. And this is where showing the dog how to be wrong and how to be right makes all the difference. Not all dogs would be trained the same way, but many need something similar in their work, in my opinion.

Now, does he always work a 195-1/2? Don't I wish! But, here is what I have been doing for utility and the jury is still out, but I think he will be fine. I now train under a fair amount of stress almost every day. Depends on what we are working.

And, he was conversant with the exercises, for the most part, before we started this stress program. My reasoning is that he is very stressed in the ring. This is the way he is. I frankly don't believe it is my fault, but since I want to show this dog, he is going to have to do it my way! Selfish? Maybe. He gets to lie around, eat the best food, have the best medical care and generally live a good life 23-1/2 hours a day. I don't think I am asking too much. But I digress.

For instance: We do signals in front of my friend's barking dogs -- who are in X-pens. We also do scent work there. I set him up for a long sit the other day knowing a Collie was coming into the room. He and this Collie are buddies and I knew the other dog would be off leash and I knew Alec would break to play. I got a nice correction in and the Collie continued to run around and tease him. Cruel? I think not. $20 down the toilet for entry fees is cruel.

So, I have gone on long enough. But, if you have a stressed dog, make sure you train through the stress -- don't ignore it. It won't go away and it will get worse.

copyright 1997 by Judith Byron.
May not be used without permission.

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