Editorial August 2003 Issue

Hot Topics

Training, recreation, and warnings for the summer.

All I can say about Training Editor Pat Miller’s article this month is that “This stuff really works!”

Like most dog owners over 15 years of age (younger owners have learned to train in a more enlightened time), I was taught to train dogs with a fair number of physical corrections and a certain amount of intimidation. Force-based training worked with all the dogs I ever lived with . . . except, of course, my parents’ tiny Yorkshire Terriers, who never learned a single desirable behavior, but they were dimwits. Punishment only made our Lab/Chesapeake-mix more aggressive, but he was pathologically angry, and had to be put down eventually. And it worked on Rupert, the 13-year-old Border Collie I still have today. Of course, he’s sort of a “soft” dog, and still tends to freeze (and maybe even snap) when he’s scared.

I’m being sarcastic, of course. Before I was educated and exposed to positive training, I really thought I had done well with the dogs in my life. If the dogs didn’t turn out, it was their fault, not how I handled them. Now I see how the force-based training methods I used failed again and again and again.

Today, I share my home with tiny Mokie, a young Chihuahua. He’s the first dog I’ve ever trained completely without force or intimidation, and guess what? He’s turning out so great. He’s confident without being pushy. He’s friendly without being rude. He’s obedient in a cheerful and happy way. And best of all, when he’s not sure what he’s supposed to do, he sits down and fixes me with an intent stare, visibly willing me to tell him what to do.

I’ll repeat: This stuff really works. Try it.

As a native Californian and lifelong dog owner, I’ve probably spent thousands of dollars at various vet clinics, having foxtails removed from various canine orifices. It’s taken me years to learn what author C.C. Holland passes along in her article on the noxious weeds in this issue.

My mom called me once at college, after her German Shepherd had been treated for an abscess (foxtail!) on his front paw. Our family vet gave my mother an Elizabethan collar and told her to put it on the dog if he started licking his paw, but she wasn’t sure how it was supposed to go.

In her inimitably sweet and concerned tone, my mom asked, “When I put the collar on him, is he supposed to look like a tulip or a prince?” I laughed, considering both images. To this day, I can still see my mom in my mind’s eye, giggling as she dressed up her amiable Shepherd as a tulip, according to my instructions. Goodness knows what she would have made of all the alternatives to the traditional “cones” we review this month.

-Nancy Kerns

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