Daniel Audet: Robert Vaughan is an appreciated member of the the Balanced Trainers Forum. Robert brings with him extensive training experience in the areas of Scent Detection and Search & Rescue dogs.
You can find the original copy of this post and many other great articles on Robert's site.
Today's post is indeed again controversial.
The only thing that 2 out of 3 dogs trainers will ever agree about is that 3rd guy is definitely wrong, regardless of which 2 you ask.
First, please watch this link of a group of young Malinois pups and their trainer using a unique facility.
What do you think? Brilliant? Cruel? WAY too young? The comments that accompany this video (after you translate them) display a huge crevasse between two opinions. While I cannot definitively say what those camps represent, my best conclusion is Working Dog people versus Pet Dog people. A more cynical opinion might call it Positive trainers versus Discipline trainers. An outright Pessimist might call it Americans verses European trainers. Europe is currently under assault by the Purely Positive crowd, and many useful and effective training tools and methods are being outlawed by a small but loud coven of individuals, using politics as their fortress. Meanwhile, in the West, a kickback has begun in response to the Purely Positive movement and it’s shortcomings as an exclusive training method. More trainers are moving toward a more balanced approach, including elements of all training according to the needs of each individual dog. But I’m digressing into an entirely different subject…
Watching the linked video, some see a dangerous activity for young dogs. Others see happy, driven, young dogs doing what they love to do, run and jump and play under the guidance of a human companion.
Part of the Communicative Approach, is focused sharply on puppies and following the method of a Mother Dog with her offspring. When first whelped and for about two weeks afterward, Mom is a stern disciplinarian. Every movement of the pups is monitored and carefully controlled by the mother. Silently, the temporarily helpless pups are being trained what, and what not to do. As the pups develop, eyes open, ears open, and clumsy legs become strong and able. Curiosity, Drive, and Emotional Flow develop… The mother dog allows her pups to test their growing bodies by wrestling and romping with littermates. Exploring and conquering their environment becomes the daily work of each puppy. Mom doesn’t prevent them from these activities. There seems to exist an inherent instinct into what each pup can do as it develops physically. Yes, and emphatically yes, some pups develop common sense, (as defined by Dog) less quickly than other pups. Some are just crazy, and reckless little Hellians. In the case of working dogs, this can be a positive trait. The thing that separates a Working dog from a Pet dog…That which makes a puppy into a working dog. Why would we prevent these dogs from developing natural drives by not allowing them the freedom of running thru the obstacle course on the video? They are doing so by choice, and by desire. The energy flow is entirely positive, and yet so many are opining that the exercise is entirely negative, or worse. The trainer is NOT driving the pups thru the course, but rather, she is allowing the pups to perform at a pace they feel comfortable with. And the pups individual confidence grows with each obstacle successfully conquered. Notice the puppy that takes a spill from the ramp early in the video. How does he react? He jumps up confidently and continues his pursuit, doggedly. If the people decrying this type of training were to react, they would coddle the puppy, oohing and cooing over the poor puppy, and blocking the good energy that was flowing thru the pup. Thus creating fear and loss of confidence. Ruining what could be a promising dog.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m Not advocating pushing a dog to the point of injury for the purpose of training. I am fully aware that damage can be done to a growing body that does too much, too soon. But I also recognize that if a puppy eagerly runs thru an obstacle course, then that puppy is ready to run that obstacle course. Within the confines of an organized progression. Walk before Run, and Run before Flying.
I hear the question, “When can I start training my dog?” in my practice, once a week minimally. The answer relies on the activity, and the response of the dog. When does a puppy begin training for scentwork? About 8 seconds after it leaves the birth canal. Mission #1-Find the milk dispenser. When should Obedience training commence? When should house-breaking begin? When can Bitework training start? All have very different and specific answers, all of which are given to the observant Trainer by the dog! Recently, a very skilled trainer that I call a good friend, posted video of one of his approximately 12 week old German Shepherd pups, attacking a bitesleeve. I’m positive that not a few people saw that video and had apoplectic seizures. ”Thats TOO YOUNG to do that!!!! You’ll creat aggressive dogs!!” But careful observation shows that the trainer was skillfully and elegantly teaching the puppy when and what to bite appropriately. And the results were impressive. That puppy is already learning CONTROL, without the more advanced lessons that will come as he grows physically, mentally, and emotionally. The trainer understands what the puppy is already capable of understanding, and progressively developing his skills as a working dog. (Thanks to Kevin Kinker of Complete Canine for his insight into training a prospective patrol-worthy GSD).
The trainer in the video has the same insight. Let the dog demonstrate what it’s capabilities are, not the politically correct rantings of the loud-mouthed minority intent on destroying true working drives in the dog. It reflects the “wussification” of modern society. Nothing and no one should have to struggle to succeed, everything has to be fair and equal, everybody that participates receives a trophy, show up for four years, do nothing, but still get a degree…(and lots more).
Dogs, just like people, used to be allowed the honor of being much tougher than they are now, more resilient, more capable of being strong. Everything now demands that the littlest of inconvenience or trial be relieved by some program. Bullying used to be stopped by a sound thrashing on the playground. Even grades in school have been reduced to pass/fail so that no poor performing student feels the sting of failure. If the current generation had the need to travel across the wilderness that was America 100 years ago in a mule drawn wagon, everybody would have stopped at Cincinnati to tend their boo-boo’s, clicker train their cows, and have an award ceremony for those that managed to travel from Pittsburgh.
Wow, has this been a circuitous journey to arrive at simple point. The Communicative Approach demands that we have a two-way communication with our dogs. We listen and understand them, and they listen, understand, and are amused at us. When is a dog “Too Young” to learn, grow, and try? When they tell us that they are by actions, and efforts… Now go outside and see what your dog is ready to do today…