Speaking of Dog Training…

I was going through the Enormous Pile of Crap on my desk this weekend and found Sid’s Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test scores, for those of you who don’t know Sid is my dog which I got from a Standard poodle puppies for sale phoenix store ans since then he is basically my baby.

Let me say from the beginning that I rather think the test does not measure what it claims to measure, because it claims to measure how “dominant” the puppy is on a variety of fronts and that is…laughable. I think that rather than “dominant” what they meant to say was “strength of will” because the idea that a seven week old puppy is out to dominate human beings is deeply hilarious. As Bradshaw points out in Dog Sense, dogs have been with us for roughly 20,000 years and in that time the selection pressure would have been away from dogs who were out to be hairy tyrants who wanted to control human beings through force.

Ahem. Bit of a digression there. But really, when you see an interpretation of the test that says “this dog is dominant and can be provoked to bite” I begin to giggle a little hysterically at the egregious misuse of the word “dominant” and also the fact that the test doesn’t recognize that any dog can be provoked to bite, it’s just a matter of where the bitey threshold is vice the “run away!” or “put on a defensive display” thresholds are.

TO GET MYSELF BACK ON TRACK. I do think some reactions are interesting, and the test is right about one thing: research has suggested that a puppy who will play fetch with you from a young age has a high probability of succeeding as a service dog. On the “Fetch Test,” the notes say that Sid scored a 3: “Chases object and returns with object to tester.” Which is exactly what you want.

Otherwise he scored mostly 2s, the interpretation of which is “This dog is dominant and can be provoked to bite. Responds well to firm, consistent, fair handling in an adult household, and is likely to be a loyal pet once it respects its human leader. Often has bouncy, outgoing temperament: may be too active for elderly, and too dominant for small children.”

This is essentially meaningless as an overall interpretation. Is there a dog who does NOT respond well to consistent, fair handling? The Volhards also advocate using their special “motivational collar” for training which is just a choke chain by another name, so they are deeply concerned with the ability to make a dog react to pain, noting that scoring a 1 or a 2 in “Touch sensitivity” means that this “will be a difficult dog to train.” I think a lack of reaction to pain is not really a liability in a dog who is trained with a clicker and a variety of yummy snacks. Sid had no reaction to the pinch test for “touch sensitivity” and rather than considering this something that makes him difficult to train (because I don’t use pain on him in training) I consider his very high pain threshold to be a huge asset in his life as a service dog, where odds are at some point someone is going to accidentally kick him or step on his tail. I would very much like him to not turn around at that point and bite the hell out of the person.

At any rate, I think the VPAT is mostly interesting for where it has remained consistent with Sid. For instance, if you throw something for him these days he will go and grab it, but generally does not bring it back to you, preferring to try and lure you into chasing him for it. He is however still pretty insensible to momentary pain, and will let Daniel pick him up without making a fuss. He still investigates loud noises with a curious, bright-eyed interest, and if you drag a rag or towel in front of him you had better be prepared for an 80lb Shedder to land on that towel like a bolt from above. He LOVES to chase a tug toy and then engage in a vigorous game of tug.

Training has made him less likely to actually get underfoot when following his person, but he still comes readily when called and follows close at my side, all “Where we goin, Mom?” Rolled onto his back, he no longer panics and flails but he does dork out, especially if you are willing to rub his tummy. In general I’d give him more 3s on the VPAT these days than he got as a pup, but that’s all down to training.

And I do still have to deeply wonder about the Volhards, and how they manage to live with dogs given their evident paranoia that young puppies are out to take over the house. My biggest problem (aside from the fact that it is wrongity-wrong-o) with the whole “DOGS ARE OUT TO DOMINATE YOU!!!!one!” model is that it sets you up to live in antagonistic competition with your dog from Day 1 and turns your house into a primal battleground filled with struggle.

I find it’s a lot easier to just manipulate my dogs with cheese and have a little faith that they’re not lying awake nights trying to figure out how to grow opposible thumbs and dethrone me from my position as Alpha Bitch.

And anyway, everyone who lives here knows that it’s actually Tink who is the Alpha Bitch.

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Comments (4) | Dog Training — Tags: — Andrea @ 0400 on 27 November, 2011

4 Responses to “Speaking of Dog Training…”

  1. Jack
    0433 on November 27th, 2011

    “My biggest problem (aside from the fact that it is wrongity-wrong-o) with the whole “DOGS ARE OUT TO DOMINATE YOU!!!!one!” model is that it sets you up to live in antagonistic competition with your dog from Day 1 and turns your house into a primal battleground filled with struggle.”

    That reminds me of problem teachers – and I’ve always maintained that if you are trying to argue with a 5 year old, you’ve automatically lost. You have to assume you’re in charge.

    I know sod all about training dogs “properly”, but I know about training horses – and when you’re talking handling something that’s easily 8 or 9 times your bodyweight, you have to assume you’re in charge and that it’s not up for discussion. And my experience is that if you’re firm enough (which is vastly different to being cruel) then they will pretty much go along with things. And then everyone is happy.

    I would be very dubious about people who are trying to pick arguments with puppies. I suspect their shoes get watered a lot.

  2. lauredhel
    0445 on November 27th, 2011

    Interesting. And yes – I’m pretty sure it’s the cats desperately willing their thumbs to grow, not the dogs.

    I ran George past an approximation of that test… and at least he licks less than he used to as a puppy. On his back he just wagged his tail wildly and begged for tummy tickles; he examined the thrown object then came back to me wondering if I had snacks or pats for him (and the cats played with the object instead); he glanced at the towel, decided it was uninteresting, and then did an unprompted show-off Sit for me, again looking for snacks or pats.

  3. Jack
    0729 on November 27th, 2011

    I wonder if there’s extra points for “enlists other pets in helping out with the object-retrieval”?

  4. Liz Black Dog
    0912 on November 27th, 2011

    Man, I would have been SOL if I’d been trying to train Spike with pain. He does feel pain, but in nine years I can only remember maybe twice that it’s actually bothered him. He’s also the sort of personality that will happily forge through pain or discomfort to do what he’s set out to do.

    He’d have been a disaster if I’d approached it from that angle. Instead I have a dog who’ll move heaven and earth and solve ridiculous problems if there’s a tuggy game in it for him. If he’d had a consistent, dedicated trainer instead of someone who just likes playing with dogs he could have ruled the world.

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