Now that The Greyhound has found his forever sofa with me and The Lurchers, I decided that some dog-training classes might be in order. Not so much because he needs the training but more because I want to socialise him with other dogs, in a different environment, and try to get through to him that he doesn't need to lunge at other dogs. Not that he does this all the time, it depends on his mood, and the other dog – and even that can change from day to day. I also believe that the lunging is through fear of the unknown rather than out and out aggression. He's too big a softie for it to be aggression.
So along we toddled last night. Dog training has changed a lot since I last did it with Lurcher No.1 seven years ago. It's all very politically correct now. Don't get me wrong, I have always believed in positive reinforcement as a means of training and this is what we did with Lurcher No.1 – I want my dogs to do what I ask of them because they want to do it, not because of the fear of reprisal if they don't. That said, there have been times when a stern tone of voice has been necessary – particularly if what they are doing, or about to do, might put them in harm's way. SIghthounds, in particular, have a tendency to turn a very deaf ear when it suits them. But stern tones of voice are not allowed here.
These classes are all based on treat-training. Not something I've ever done before because the Lurchers have always responded better to praise and an ear scratch rather than treats. Both of them will eye up a treat as if it's poison, they may deign to take it out of my hand but will then promptly drop it and thoroughly investigate it again before eating it. Or, as is more usually the case, not eating it. Last night was all about conditioning the dogs to respond to a treat and getting them to associate it with a "bridge" word. In this case, that word is "good". If they did what was asked, they were told "good" and given a treat, although not from the hand. The treat had to be thrown to the floor so that they do not start to think that any food in your hand is theirs.
So we practised that for a bit and after 40 minutes took the dogs out for a pee break and came in again and moved on to "cue" words. Take "sit" for example. By holding treat in your hand and moving your hand slightly over their head, you can encourage a dog to sit. Once they twig that sitting gets them the treat, you start asking them to sit, "sit" being the cue word, then, if they do sit, giving them the "bridge" word, "good", followed by a treat.
And herein lies the rub. You see, sighthounds, and greyhounds in particular, do not generally do sit. Not because they don't want to but their body shape makes sitting particularly difficult and uncomfortable for them. We did try but The Greyhound was having none of it. Furthermore, by this point, he was exhausted. Not only did this very food-motivated dog lose all interest in the fresh ham that I had in my hand but he decided enough was enough and he was going to lay down for a snooze. Much to the hilarity of the rest of the class. To be fair to the trainers, they were brilliant. They understand that Greyhounds have their limitations and we were allowed to skip cue words and let The Greyhound have a rest.
And do you know what the little bugger did at the end of the class? Completely of his own accord? He sat.
But anyway, aside from wondering if I'd wandered into the canine equivalent of an "out of the box" corporate training course, it was good. The Greyhound behaved himself impeccably and did the best that he could. Which is all I can ask of him. I'm looking forward to next week and seeing what that brings. In the meantime, we have rather a lot of homework to do.......