training for a balanced puppy

Last night at fun runs Maggie Paskawych and I got into a discussion about how we, as trainers and keepers-of-dogs, affect how our puppies will react to stress.

I took the opportunity of last night’s training session to introduce Hickory to the concept of lying quietly in his ex-pen while other dogs do agility, and while Bud whoops it up with Hazard, Blue, and other dogs.

While the other dogs were working Hickory was getting clicked and fed for lying down in the ex-pen. He worked constantly for over 20 minutes and, very quickly, learned that if he whined or jumped on the walls of the pen, I would tell him “lie down,” wait 4-5 seconds, and give him a treat.

In the end he worked for an hour and a half and wasn’t nearly as disruptive as he was earlier in the week.

I’ve often thought that a lot of agility handlers encourage behaviors that are disruptive in order to avoid squelching “drive.” I’ve seen spoiled rotten dogs behaving horribly in crates and ex-pens while their handlers try to walk a course, or work as a bar-setter, or just walk to the vendors for some lunch.

We’ve had students who created such horrible crate behavior that they became pariahs at trials — no one wanted to crate anywhere near them, and everyone resented them for walking away from their noisy pack of dogs and letting their neighbors bear the brunt of the annoying behaviors.

The rule in our pack has always been that everyone gets a turn, but you must be calm and quiet when confined. The idea that a dog of mine would bark non-stop while I’m away from the crate is unimaginable.

So this led to my conversation with Maggie about training a puppy.

If you focus too much on obstacles and agility, and not enough on proper social interaction and housemanners, can you create little agility monsters?

And conversely, if you focus too much on proper social interaction and housemanners, can you kill the dog’s natural drive to work?

I’ve believed for some time that I “tame” my dogs overmuch. But can you shut a dog down in the agility ring by taming their wild side?

Or is it possible that the aussies I’ve trained in the past were just softer on the agility course, and that taming and housemanners have nothing to do with their natural boldness?

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