There is a lot of conventional wisdom out there about how and when it is best to train dogs. Most of it has annoyed me for most of my life. A lot of it is counter-intuitive, which nags at me like a pebble in a shoe.
Self-confessed experts annoy me, particularly so when it is concerning a topic which I have to freely admit that I know absolutely nothing about, as in this case. To reiterate (or, technically, only iterate), I know so little about dogs compared to most people that I would readily defer to a two-year-old sucking on a plush Schnauzer.
I have made observations in reference to my dog (well, our family dog, but she has drawn the most blood from me since we’ve had her so I presuppose that this grants me supremacy in the matter) over the two years that we have had her which I cannot help let lead me to unpopular conclusions, guaranteed to get me ostracised by bona (ahaha) fido (ahaha) members of the fancy. Since I am always up for a good argument (no, no, you came here for an argument), I felt I should record my observations here for better or for worse and see if they struck a chord. And, whilst I should hesitate to do so, I will have to draw a conclusion from these observations. No doubt those that cannot conceive of deviation from the conventional wisdom on the subject will howl me down, and what subject would render itself more appropriate than the current one, certainly, still, I am inclined to maintain my position.
When we first got Millie (such is her name, a little Beagle-Cavalier cross called a ‘Beaglier’ – utterly delightful) she was about 6 weeks old. Utterly clueless but cuteness distilled, the first time she saw me she ran to me in a valiant attempt to lick me stupid, and in an hour she was happily dozing on my lap.
People were onto us straight away “Oh, you’ll have to get her to puppy pre-school and get her trained”. This was Conventional Wisdom. We had no genuine cause to disagree, although the old doubts were nagging at me as strongly as ever.
So, when she reached about 4 months of age (which some experts authoritatively told us was getting too old) we trotted off to Puppy Preschool, run by a self-proclaimed Dog-Whisperer. The woman looked disinclined to whisper anything, to my mind, but I kept my observation to myself. She demonstrated some very impressive feats of obedience with her own adult dog, at which point I couldn’t help feeling that people like her might just get what’s coming to them when the canine revolution finally comes2.
She then proceeded to try and teach us how to Whisper to/at our own dogs. A lot of the tips sounds like good sense, but she might as well have been giving me tips on quantity surveying in Sanskrit for all of the good it did. Millie was utterly disinclined to pay any attention. She was overexcited, highly distracted in the presence of the other dogs, and totally unruly. She was, in short, totally unmanageable. This persisted for the remainder of our sessions and any time I spent with her in between times. By the end of the class the dog whisperer was looking at me with thinly veiled disdain as if it couldn’t possibly be her methods that were failing.
Millie’s untrainability3 persisted until she was about 12 months old. After that her ridiculous excitability began to taper off slowly, and her attention span began to…..exist.
Lately, now that Mille has gotten a bit older, and progressively over the past 6 months, really, she has been more and more inclined to listen and to try to do what is asked of her. The other day I got her to lie down on a mat on the first attempt without having tried to train her to do it since the age of 6 months with an even 0% success rate. She is picking other things up readily as well, and obeys most commands unless she’s highly excited. I am confident that she could pick up almost anything I try to teach her now.
The inescapable conclusion I come to is in line with what I have always believed in my heart: that it is pointless to try and train dogs when they are too young to accept that training. I am sure this varies wildly between breeds and individual dogs, but as far as I am concerned, it is an immutable fact. To hell with those that preach a doctrine of The Earlier The Better. I can’t see any reason to support that point of view.
Don’t get me wrong. I would have loved to have Millie settled down and trained up as a young pup. But it truly was pointless trying. As a result we had a truly miserable Puppy Stage.
The biting irony, by the way, is that whenever she associates with other dogs, she picks up bad habits. This is bloody irritating. The Experts say that socilaising your dog is a must. But she always gets on just fine with other dogs, and whenever she spends any time around them she picks up bad habits. She learnt to bark at Puppy Preschool (the only bloody thing she DID learn there) and on another occasion she was with a friend’s dog pack once and when she came home she summarily started escaping. They talk. They do. The revolution is coming, I tells ya.
But anyway, now she’s a great young dog with the best nature you could ever hope for and she’s still great to look at4. And I wouldn’t trade her for anything.
Except for the barking. But that’s another story.
1 A better class of ‘But’. And presumably less smelly. But again, I would have to defer to a dog’s opinion on that, them seemingly being the expert in that area. I just hope they record their wisdom for posterity. Um.
2 At which point I should pause to make a note to take Millie home a T-Bone tonight.
3 Shutup spellchecker.
4 Not like some of them. Gods, I don’t know what possesses some people who have, well, dog-ugly dogs. I mean, these things are ugly even for dogs. A face only a mother could love? More like a face only a mother could look at long enough to hit with a lump of wood. My Gods.