Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/December 1891/The Training of Dogs
|THE TRAINING OF DOGS.|
By WESLEY MILLS, M. D.
AN analysis of our own psychic life, complex as much of it is, compared with that of the dog, shows that a great part of our mental processes are not concerned with abstractions and generalizations of a very high order, but with actual concrete perceptions and conceptions; that we think in pictures rather than words; that our thoughts are the result of past associations; that the machinery of the mind or brain is so connected that when one part is moved, so to speak, a whole series of connections are established. Hence the psychic life of every creature must be related essentially to its past experiences.
If this be true—and it can not be doubted—we think, then, the puppy's intelligence, like our own, begins to develop, and continues to do so exactly in relation to its environment. We can make that environment pretty much what we will; and with the dog, his master from the first, and always, is the principal factor.
Two extreme views have for a long period been entertained in regard to the training of the dog; the one that he is a wild, wayward creature to be "broken," the other that he needs no special correction if properly taught from the first. Neither is quite correct.
A puppy full of life tends to do exactly as his impulses move him, till the highest motive power, a desire to please his master, is substituted. It follows that a puppy can not be too soon led to understand that he has a master—kind, honest, intelligent, and firm. He must be consistent with his puppy. All caprice i& fatal; it utterly confuses and demoralizes the dog.
Remembering that principle we laid down long ago, that the dog is very like ourselves, we can indicate a few principles for training that we think will meet the test of experience. The puppy at one period is like a young infant, later like a two-year-old child, and at the best most dogs never get beyond the intelligence of a young child in most respects, though in some qualities the wisest man is far behind the dog.
For practical purposes the puppy may be treated as an infant, but as a rapidly developing one. He gets his information through his senses, and his training must be related to this, and to the fact that he is a creature with strong impulses but little self-control.
It is a well-established law of the nervous system that what has happened once is likely to occur again under the same circumstances; hence in the training of puppies first experiences are of much importance, and all the arrangements of the kennel, and in fact the whole environment, should be shaped in relation to this principle.
The puppy should not be allowed to get into habits which will later need correction. Let him from the first be encouraged in cleanliness, self-respect, love of esteem, respect for the rights of other puppies, his fellows, etc.
Very early begin to instill into him lessons of restraint, but only for the briefest periods, for the creature is as yet weak in brain and will power, though strong in instincts and impulses.
The master or trainer must not be associated in his mind with
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unpleasantness, but with the reverse. Do not, therefore, punish him, but let him learn almost unconsciously that certain actions and certain pleasures are connected.
He should soon learn his name, should always come when called, but not be summoned too often, especially if playing. It is well to carry a bit of biscuit, cheese, etc., to reward him for coming at first. Later a pat of approbation will suffice.
The trainer should never undertake what he is not reasonably sure of accomplishing; and the first aim should always be to secure the dog's attention and interest, and to make the accomplishment pleasant. But he must know what is wanted, and if he can not comprehend this, the lesson is unsuitable at this period. He must, however, obey if he understands; gentle compulsion.
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when once the purpose is understood, may be exercised—e. g., if he will not come when he is called, he must not be whipped, as that will make the whole set of associations unpleasant, but he must be gently dragged by the back of the neck or bodily carried to where the trainer stood when the command was given; he must then be very gently reprimanded, then forgiven and made to feel that he is forgiven, and the lesson repeated, always rewarding obedience in some way.
Obedience to what is right pleasant, disobedience unpleasant, is the rule for us all, dogs and men. On these principles yard and house training is simple with well-bred dogs. They mean to please if they can. Make obedience and right-doing understood. possible, and pleasant, and it will be preferred, especially if the wrong-doing is followed by the reverse experiences.
Dogs are not filthy in their habits, but some people who keep them are, and others do not understand what is required to enable a dog to follow his instincts of cleanliness. Where a dog has once been to respond to Nature's call, he tends to visit again, and this is a guide to enable us to avail of natural instinct to enable us to maintain cleanly surroundings. The same general principles apply when dogs are taken afield to be worked on some sort of game. At first the puppy may run toward almost every form of life he sees. This is natural, and he would not be worth his keeping if he did not show some such tendency to investigate the world about him.
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But he must be restrained gradually. He must associate certain acts with the approval and others with the disapproval of him he respects, loves, and wishes greatly to please if he only knows how.
But such is the strength of the impulses of some puppies—now, we will suppose, six or eight months old—that they find it very difficult to restrain themselves. In such case we must lessen the stimulus or source of excitement rather than resort at once to the application of the principle of making the act unpleasant, as the use of a spiked collar or check-line.
These may later be useful in a modified form, but not at first; indeed, such methods are mostly quite unnecessary if a proper course be pursued. To illustrate: Suppose that a brace of setter puppies eight months old be taken to some wood where there is but little game. If they tend to run wild without any reference to the whereabouts of the trainer, and disregard his calls or his whistle, it surely would not be wise to whip those puppies soundly at once, attach a spiked collar or a check-line. To do so would probably confuse them, humiliate them, and retard their development in every way. Now, if the trainer secrete himself for a little while, these puppies will probably get frightened a little, feeling that they are lost, and will after this be more cautious how widely they range. When they do come in they may be scolded, but not whipped at this stage.
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It should be pointed out that all dogs should be taught to come in to whistle and to "down charge," or to drop at some word of command or at the upraising of the hand. This applies to all breeds, though more especially to dogs used in shooting, A dog in the field should also be guided by the motions of his trainer's hand. In learning this, the voice, the whistle, and often a long cord will be useful.
But the author wishes to avoid giving the impression that there is only one way of accomplishing these things, as many previous writers seem to have thought, with the result that many who have attempted to follow these rigid rules have disgusted themselves and spoiled their dogs.
It is to be remembered that all lessons require frequent repetition. "Little and often" applies to training as a cardinal principle.
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No one should undertake the training of a dog to work on game who is not possessed of patience and good temper. Lacking these, the puppy is apt to cause the trainer great worry and to get little good from him, if he be not actually spoiled. It is, in fact, better to go afield expecting that the puppy will do nothing as desired at first; then one is prepared for the worst, and may soon lay his plans to accomplish what he aims at, which must always be done in relation both to the dog and the circumstances.
But with dogs example is strong for good or evil. A steady, old trained dog is invaluable, while a disobedient, headstrong one will most assuredly ruin the puppy. But it is clearly foolish to expect a pappy under a certain age to work on game with an older dog—indeed, to work on game at all—though ranging, obeying the whistle, dropping, etc., should all be taught fore the puppy is introduced to game. He must learn restraint and obedience, though it must be confessed that a day's work on actual game often quite transforms some puppies. But, as a rule, ten or twelve months will be quite soon enough to introduce a puppy to actual work.
Retrieving may be taught at home, using a soft ball of yarn, etc.; and if the puppy tends to bite on this, a few wires may be pushed through it. He must always at first be rewarded, when he brings the ball when thrown, with a little meat, cheese, etc. The words "fetch," "seek," etc., may be employed. Soon he will
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understand, and seek when no ball is thrown. To get him to "seek dead," some article may be hidden, and at first some meat, etc., must be employed, and the dog assisted to find it. Later a real bird may be used, or a wing. The same word of command should always be used. If the puppy will not bring the article—will not retrieve—take him to the spot and place it in his mouth, holding it there and obliging him to carry it and finally deliver it to his trainer; reward him, and then try him again.
Some dogs take to retrieving naturally, requiring no training, while it is almost impossible to get others, often of high intelligence, to learn this at all.
Most puppies need a good deal of attention before they are perfectly steady on point, and to wing and shot, as their natural tendency is to secure the game when they have found it. How best to overcome this it is not always easy to decide. The dog must be encouraged to remain steady while his trainer moves up. Often the assistance of a second person to flush the bird will be
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useful, while the dog is approached and encouraged but not allowed to rush on. In this case a check-cord may be useful—to be employed as little as possible. The example of a reliable old dog is invaluable. Some form of check that will make the dog defeat or punish himself is preferable to direct administration of punishment by the trainer.
Gun-shyness is but an exaggerated form of fear of unusual noises, and must be treated accordingly. Let the dog be gradually introduced to louder and louder noises, never being allowed to escape, but being made to see that no harm is meant him or can happen to him. As to whether it is worth while to attempt to cure the worst cases will depend much on other circumstances, as the dog's breeding, general intelligence, nose, etc. It may or may not be inherited.
The author, in conversation with a very successful trainer of horses, once asked: "Can you teach any horse these things?" "I can do so, but it would not in many cases be worth while," was the reply. The same may be said of dogs: some of them are not adapted for certain kinds of work, and acquirements by nature to a sufficient degree, to make it worth while to persevere in teaching them; just as certain boys would never become expert enough at certain vocations to warrant their pursuit. But before abandoning a well-bred dog that seems to possess courage, "go," and fair general intelligence, it might be well to get the advice of some second person of much experience. Many dogs, unpromising at first, have become a great success afterward. The ability to read dogs very thoroughly is given to but a few men, and these, provided they have patience, good temper, and perseverance, must of course make the best trainers.
Though we have spoken chiefly of the training of hunting dogs, it is simply because that is usually more elaborate. All training is based essentially on the same principles, for the mind of the trainer and that of the dog are relative constants, while the circumstances are the variables.
In every instance the dog, from the earliest period, must know the trainer as his master, as one who knows his own mind and always is to be obeyed. But, in order to insure this, the principles we have already endeavored to enforce must be faithfully and intelligently applied; and it is very important, we repeat, that nothing be undertaken that can not be performed, and every advance in instruction approached by slight gradation and frequent repetition. All sound training must constantly keep in mind the individuality of the animal. The assumption that all dogs can be treated just alike is as erroneous as that all stomachs may have the same diet.
A dog kept constantly in a kennel can never attain his highest psychical development; and it is the author's experience that it does every dog good to bring him into the house occasionally for short periods and allow him to mingle with the family. It raises the animal in his own estimation, and attaches him to his master, for whom he will have increased respect.
- From advance sheets of the author's book. The Dog in Health and Disease, in preparation by D. Appleton & Co.