Thoughts on… dog training

The first big problem with getting a dog is that owners give their dogs odd names. Sometimes they are human names like George or Gladys, or sometimes they are just random names like Nugget or Mouse (these are all names of dogs I know). But what they don’t think about when naming their dog is how it sounds when shouted in the park. Imagine your dog gets off the lead in the park and you have to run around trying to call it back. You’re running around shouting “Mouse! Come here Mouse!” And someone asks “Have you lost your pet mouse?” And you have to reply “No, I’ve lost my dog… he’s called Mouse.” I mean, who calls their dog Gladys?! That’s an old woman’s name! I wouldn’t even call my child that.

My dog is called Lexie. This is a name that I didn’t choose but have grown to like. I wanted K9, but then that’s me being nerdy. My Grandad calls her Lecky, which has become a kind of nickname for her now. She is a greyhound and at the time of writing is 9 years old (I think). Every Monday we take her to a greyhound dog training group, which I have found to be of little use to the dog, but a great source of inspiration for me.

The first part of the dog training is ‘socialising’. Which is basically walking around smiling awkwardly at other dog owners while the dogs affectionately (or otherwise) sniff each other’s rear ends.  Then we move onto other ‘training exercises’ such as walking around the room in a circle and telling the dog to wait. A fun ‘exercise’ is when we tell the dog to wait and then call them to us. I say fun because it mostly consists of dogs wandering off in any direction but the owner’s. This sometimes happens with my dog too, but not that often.

Sometimes the dogs are ‘challenged’ to do things like ‘not eat the food’ – for which they get a food reward… confusing eh – or ‘fetch the toy’, which frankly begs the question “If you wanted it so bad, why did you throw it away in the first place?”. A lot of trainers cheat by using food, or ‘treats’ as they’re commonly known. Now, a treat is a reward for doing something good, yes? So why do trainers use them to lure the dog to them or away from the sausages? That’s not a treat, that’s a bribe. But you don’t go into pet shops and ask “Do you have any dog bribes?”

Some trainers like to pretend they’re good trainers by cheating their dog out of learning a ‘trick’. They say ‘look at me’ and then move their own head directly in front of the dog’s. They say ‘touch my hand’ and put their hand on the dog’s nose. They say ‘shake’ and then pick the dog’s paw up. They’re not learning anything! You’re paying what, £3 an hour to pretend your dog is learning tricks?! “Ooh, she’s picked up that toy.” “No, you put it in her mouth and selotaped her jaw shut!”

Another thing I don’t understand is when people come to dog training but they don’t train their dogs. For example, some of the people who come bring their kids. Which is fine, the whole family can learn how to train the dog. But the kids don’t do anything. They just sit there in their pyjamas eating little packed lunches and occasionally get up to run around and disturb others. Why on Earth do you bring them?! Surely they should be at home studying or shoving crayons up their nose.

Some of the owners come for a ‘natter’, which is okay because a lot of them are older women. In fact, if there’s one thing I have learned from dog training is that older women can be quite funny. For example, the other week a dog – the one called Mouse actually – did a wee on the floor. The dog had done this the previous two weeks as well. So the dog’s owner cleaned it up and the training instructor said “This is becoming a habit now”, to which she replied “It’s funny, she’s stopped doing it at home!” which made me laugh.

And there’s two types of dog owners. The first is the one that nobody likes. The ones who walk around and shout their dog’s name confidently and the dog follows them because it can smell the half a pound of liver in their pocket. Or the dog doesn’t come and they brush it off with “No, she’s more interested in that bit of carpet hahaha”. They’re the kind that always have 50 spare dog poo bags on them – as if the dog has diarrhoea – in a little pouch that cost more than they would like to admit.

Then you’ve got the direct opposite of these owners: the ones who love their dog too much. The ones who spend most of their afternoon taking photos of their dog in ‘funny’ positions (they’re just lying down!) and post them on social networking sites. The kind that buy dog collars with all the bells and whistles – quite literally in some cases. The ones that buy ‘dog clothes’ and any other useless and overpriced item they can find in their nearest pet store to smother their dog with and discourage all dignity.

I like to think i’m somewhere in between these two stereotypes. I’m the kind that will let my dog go where she wants and do what she wants, but if I call her she’ll more than likely come. I use an excited voice rather than treats to lure my dog, because she actually likes me regardless of how much prize mince I have in my hand. I don’t take countless photos of my dog and I certainly don’t dress her up in any form of clothing. There are few dog owners like this out there, but I am pleased to say I have encountered some and they are very nice people with very nice dogs.

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