Friday, March 5, 2010

The Art of Quitting

One of the most important skills to training dogs is to know when to quit.... to call it a day.... to end on a good note. I think one of the reasons herding breeds and retrievers are so popular for training are because many have a higher tolerance for repetition and their trainers require less finesse when it comes to stopping. And then you have hounds. The words "one more time" result in sudden death of your training moment. "Don't say it!" we tell our trainer, Kathryn (remember she trains and competes Golden Retrievers).

I used to think that training dogs was straightforward. Trainer does ___ and the dog responds with ___. Easy as can be. And then I started teaching greyhound obedience classes and realized that it is actually very difficult for some people as they have no feel for it at all.
In my opinion, the best way to enhance your "feel" is to learn when to quit. I have noticed in the classes I teach that people often try to use the entire hour and neglect giving their greyhound a break. In a greyhound class, we always have one greyhound that can train the entire hour (Kim, that would be your Cody). You can't take a break if you wanted to because you have a motivated, focused greyhound in your face asking for the next request. About half the class should take a break after working for a few minutes. These dogs tend to work really well and then suddenly they stop because they don't understand why they are having to do the same thing over and over again. And then you have your hounds that should only do something once or twice. "One more time" ruins the training session.
The trick is that you always want to leave the dog wanting more. If you train until your dog slows down or even worse... stops, you have trained too long. And this goes for any breed of dog. Remember that you are training a personality not a breed. Border collies are often high drive, high energy, and extremely motivated. Greyhounds often have less drive, less energy, and less motivation. But there are greyhounds out there with as much drive as a typical border collie and there are border collies with as little drive as a typical greyhound. So it is important to focus on the personality you are dealing with and train accordingly.

For those of you that are taking greyhounds, other hounds, or any other dog that is not a workaholic to obedience classes, have the guts to take breaks. Don't feel silly about it and if an instructor gives you a hard time or insists on "one more time" when you think it is best not to, it might be time to find another class.
I will conclude with a recent example. I attend a group obedience class on Wednesday nights and I bring both Reagan and Riley. It works really well to have them both because I can usually work the entire hour because one rests while the other works. Well, our wonderful trainer got a little over zealous with the heeling the other night. At some point, I decided that Riley had heeled enough and I swapped her for Reagan. Eventually, I felt that Reagan had heeled enough as well. But the class was still working on heeling (remember Kathryn trains Goldens :-). So I put both dogs away and practiced my heeling footwork without a dog until we moved onto another exercise.

Happy training! All photos are of Katie, the hardest working greyhound of them all.