For many of us who work with dogs on a daily basis, we realize the importance of maintaining a good relationship with our dog.  The chemistry that exists between the working dog and handler is vital to the success of the team.  This is painfully evident when I see K-9 teams perform bite work or scent work, and they do not appear to be on the same page. For instance, a handler reluctant to work their dog off-lead for fear of running away, or a dog that refuses to listen and causes a very embarrassing situation when commands are given with no compliance.  We see handlers getting angry and frustrated and their dogs just as out of control as they are.  In detection, we see handlers hesitant to work off-lead because they have no faith in their obedience.  We also see some dogs out of control in patrol or detection work due to a lack of leadership on the part of the handler.  Finding the right mixture of compulsion and motivational training must be done to create a confident, well rounded team.  For working dogs we must always lead the dog to believe there is another task directly ahead.  For instance, when we recall our dogs from a bite, we may redirect them on a building search or another task.  This keeps the dog motivated to come back to the handler and work more reliably.

Quite often, the lack of obedience is a direct result of poor leadership.  A poor leader will be a poor trainer or handler for a dog.  One of the golden rules to obedience is to always maintain a mutual respect.  I hope we all became interested in working dogs because we share a love for dogs in general.

There are basically three types of trainers:

  • The first type of trainer does everything out of motivation and relies ONLY on treats and toys. The problem with this type of training is that it is not reliable when you really need it outside of your training session.
  • The second type of trainer relies too much on compulsion and is quite often overly heavy handed and misuses training tools. It is this type of trainer that uses more firmness than is necessary and gives very legitimate training tools a bad name.  You quite often see anything less than a very high drive dog, cringing and looking very battered and scared.
  • The third type of trainer has an open mind and weighs each training problem accordingly. This type of trainer will balance out a proper mix of motivation and compulsion. They will adapt to the problem or behavior issue and formulate a plan that will produce results.  The dog’s spirit is always of paramount importance and only the minimal amount of firmness is needed to achieve the goal.  Various collars may be needed, but used only to the degree to produce positive results.  There are times that a dog’s energy level and drives are severe enough to warrant the use of a particular collar.  A correction should never be perceived by the dog, or trainer, as punishment, but more as a guiding maneuver that helps to illustrate the proper position or course of action to the dog. I’d hope most trainers fall into this category.
  • Balance is important to remember when working obedience or just about anything else we do with our dogs. When we give a command the dog must be compliant and perform the exercise to perfection. Knowing how much praise or how firm to be is often the challenge for most handlers.  With good, consistent training, and always maintaining a mutual respect, any good handler and good dog will become a great team.  It is okay to be firm, but we must always be fair and try our hardest to keep it fun.

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