All-time closest-to-my-heart dog movie, and not just because they filmed the mountain lion scenes near our cabin and Dad took us to watch. Also, check out the spray-painted forest floor as the continuity people try to make SoCal's San Bernardino National Forest look like green Quebec. I LOVE THIS MOVIE SO MUCH. Awesome Irish Setters trained by, who else, William Koehler. Click to embiggen.
I'm lying. I did know Bill Koehler, and I admired and respected him, but I was eleven years old when I took my beagle to his Novice Obedience class, so it wasn't like we were friends or anything. I like to imagine, though, that if you'd asked him years later about a kid and a beagle in some class back in the day, he would have said, "I remember them. They got a passing score, didn't they?"
"No agnostic ever burned anyone at the stake." [Daniel J. Boorstin]
We did. Like most Koehler grads, that beagle and I could have walked into a Novice ring the day after obedience class ended and walked out with a qualifying score. Her spirit was not damaged by Koehler obedience. She was a spoiled, fat, happy little hound, as smart as any dog I've known, a beloved family member, an eager hunter, a champ at stealing food she couldn't get by begging, and the Koehler method, at least as it was applied by an eleven year old, didn't change any of that. The class made us both a lot smarter, and a lot closer. I loved it.
I think Bill Koehler was a genius with dogs. He taught every session of the class and worked with every type of dog and every type of handler under the sun. I saw no dogs ruined, no spirits broken, no "learned helplessness" — and I was an observant, kind-hearted youngster. I got the impression that Bill Koehler respected the intelligence and the character of each dog he worked with, and he wanted us to do the same.
"But... but... that thing he did!" Well, yeah. My second dog I trained at home so I wouldn't have to pitch a throw-chain in her general direction. But I took her to a Koehler class after that, and we had fun and she did great.
"But... what about that other thing?" I found something that worked a lot better. Not everything Bill Koehler advocated was right for me and my dogs.
A friend who shows her dogs in AKC obedience overheard the following exchange at ringside at a recent show, where one poorly-trained Novice dog after another was coming to grief:
"What has happened to Novice? The dogs used to do so much better than this."
"Well, yeah! They used to be trained by the Koehler method."
I used a clicker to train my pit bull Bounce [who had no interest whatsoever in retrieving toys or tennis balls] to fetch. After two sessions of maybe fifteen minutes each, two evenings in a row, she would fly to pick up a wooden dumbbell and return it to my hand. If I remember right, I used broken-up pieces of potato chips for treats. Huge fun, clickers.
On the other hand, anyone who says you can train a working border collie to work livestock using a clicker is talking out of his elbow. It simply can't be done with a clicker, for a host of reasons, and anyone who says it can has never gotten a dog around a USBCHA Open course. There are aversives in stockdog training. Sometimes there are rather strong aversives. And there are no food treats, ever — the dog wouldn't take them if you offered. I'm sure you can use a clicker to teach a dog to be obedient around stock, but obedience on stock is for conformation-bred dogs and AKC trials, not for Zamora.
Ian Dunbar says that a puppy should meet 100 friendly people of every size, age, appearance and ethnicity by the time the pup is three months old. I think this is possibly the greatest advice you can give to the owner of a new puppy, and I think if everyone in the country actually did this and did it right, the number of serious dog bites would approach zero. The socialization window slams shut by four months, people. Git 'er done.
On the same topic: the third chapter of Jean Donaldson's book Culture Clash — the chapter entitled Socialization, Fear and Aggression — is possibly the most important thing a first-time dog owner should read.
I'm not saying we should have mandatory classes with reading assignments, or anything like that. [On the other hand, is it a jungle out there or what?]
My sister has an awesome pug. Her pug is spoiled and happy and sleeps on the bed and goes on fun hikes and has her own wardrobe. Lily MunsterPug also sits politely at the door and comes when called. She's perfect, really. My sister follows some of Cesar Millan's training recommendations. She does not, however, poke dogs with her fingers and go "Tzchttt!"
I love when someone tries to defuse a religious argument by saying, "I think we all can agree that there are many paths to enlightenment."
Boom! "You know you're going to hell, don't you? Straight to hell." "Truth, not tolerance! Only one truth!" [opponents pound chests, walk away on knuckles]
Right now, advocates of different dog-training methods might as well be arguing about religion. They look like Oneness Pentecostals and Apostolic United Brethren hollering at each other, "Not Christian!" "Am too!" "Not Christian!" "Am too!" It's embarrassing to watch. Seriously. Not to mention that 99% of the dog owning public does. not. care.
Dogs are individuals. Handlers are individuals. A training method that suits one dog may not suit another. Combining techniques from different methods may work best. Whether disciples of the First Regular Church of Jesus Alive like it or not, there are many paths to enlightenment — and thank God for that. I mean, thank doG.
Cesar Millan: his dog, and his critics. Brent of KC Dog Blog rounds up the usual suspects.
Dog Training Symposium - First of It's Kind, Cesar Millan and American Humane Convene the Event. Its, dammit. Holy Mother of God, check out this comment.
H/T to Calvin Trillin for the First Regular Church of Jesus Alive.