There are already many excellent books on the training of dogs, written by people better qualified, and I am not going to make this article a treatise on canine education. I only wish to discuss a few easily attained feats of training which should simplify any dog owner’s relations with his charge.
The average modern dog owner probably derives little or no advantage from the animal which is trained to attack ‘a thief’ on command, to retrieve heavy objects or to find lost ones, and I ask the lucky master of such a clever dog, how often within the last years has his companion had the opportunity of putting all these arts into practice? I myself have never yet been saved by a dog from a burglar and the only time that a dog of mine ever brought me an object lost on the street, it happened to be a bitch that had never been trained to retrieve.
It was quite a remarkable experience: Pygi II, daughter of my dog Stasi, who was trotting after me in the streets of Königsberg, suddenly nudged me in the leg with her nose and, as I glanced down at her, she raised her jaws which clasped a lost leather glove.
What she was thinking at the time, and whether she really had the ghost of an idea that the object lying in my wake and infused with my smell really belonged to me, I do not know. Of course, after that, I repeatedly ‘lost’ gloves but never, never again did she so much as look at them. However, I wonder how many dogs which are perfectly trained to ‘seek lost’ have ever brought back to their masters genuinely lost articles.
In King Solomon’s Ring, I have already expressed my opinion, in no uncertain terms, on the subject of giving one’s dog to a professional trainer for its upbringing.
The three lessons which I am going to discuss here are, in themselves, quite elementary, and yet it is surprising how few dog owners will take the trouble to teach them to their dogs: namely, ‘Lie down’, ‘Basket’ and ‘Heel’.
But first of all, a few general remarks on the rules of dog training. To begin with, the question of reward and punishment; it is a fundamental error to consider the latter more efficacious than the former. Many branches of canine education particularly ‘house-training’, are much better instilled without the aid of punishment.
The best way to ‘house-train’ a newly acquired young dog of about three months is to watch him constantly during his first few hours in your house and to interrupt him the moment he seems likely to deposit a corpus delicti of either liquid or solid consistency. Carry him as quickly as possible outside and set him down, always in the same place.
When he has done what is required of his praise and caress him as though he had performed a positive act of heroism. A puppy treated like this very soon learns what is meant, and if he is taken out regularly, there will soon be nothing more to clean up.
The most important thing is that punishment should follow an offense as quickly as possible. There is no sense in beating a dog even a few minutes after he has done something wrong since he cannot understand the connection. Only in the case of habitual offenders which are quite conscious of their misdoings is delayed punishment likely to be of any use.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule: on the occasions when a dog of mine has killed a new animal of my collection simply out of ignorance, I have been able to impress upon him the enormity of his conduct by hitting him later with the corpse.
This was not so much calculated to imbue the dog with the wrongness of a certain deed as to fill him with revulsion for a certain object. As I shall describe later I have resorted in certain cases to ‘prophylactic punishment’ in order to inculcate in the dogs a feeling for the sanctity of new house-mates.
It is quite wrong to attempt to instill obedience into a dog by punishment, and equally senseless to beat him afterward when, enticed by the scent of some game, he has run away during a walk. The beating will cure him, not of running away, which lies further back in his memory, but probably of the coming back, with which he will assuredly connect the punishment.
The only way of curing such a deserter is to shoot something at him with a catapult just as he is preparing to make off. The shot must take the dog quite by surprise and it is better that he should not notice that this bolt from the blue was directed by the hand of his own master. The complete defencelessness of the animal against this sudden pain will make it all the more memorable for him, and this method has the additional advantage that it will not make him ‘hand-shy’.
Where corporal punishment is concerned the same principles apply both for dogs and children: it should be administered only by a person who is really fond of the culprit and who thereby hurts himself almost more than he does the offender, and much fine feeling and understanding of dogs is required in the gradation of the sentence.
Sensitivity to punishment varies considerably in different dogs and a light slap may mean more to a highly-strung, impressionable dog than a severe beating to his more robust brother.
Physically, a healthy dog is an extraordinarily insensitive creature and, apart from striking him on the nose, it is almost impossible to hurt him with the bare hand.
When in the same dog mental and physical sensitiveness is combined, as often happens in the case of spaniels, setters and other similar breeds, much care must be taken in meting out corporal chastisement, otherwise, the dog may easily become intimidated, lose its self-confidence and joie de vivre, finally even becoming permanently hand-shy. During my experiments in cross-breeding Chows with Alsatians, particularly at the beginning when the stud contained rather more Alsatian blood, extremes of temperament from very ‘soft’ and impressionable to completely insensitive ones were often to be found quite irregularly distributed amongst these dogs.
Stasi was an extraordinarily ‘tough’ dog, while her daughter, Pygi, was the exact opposite. On occasions when the two had again diverged from the straight and narrow path (as when they nearly pulled a Maltese terrier in half), passers-by were indignant at my apparent injustice, for I invariably flogged the mother and let the daughter go with a light slap and an angry remonstrance. Nevertheless, both dogs had received an equivalent punishment.
Every form of canine punishment is effective less by virtue of the pain it causes than by revelation of the power of the administrator. It is most essential for the efficacy of the punishment that the dog really understands this revelation of power. Since dogs, like monkeys, do not hit but bite each other in their ranking order disputes, the blow is not really an adequate or intelligible form of chastisement.
Mark, One of my most important friends, found that a nip in the arm or shoulder, which did not even produce a wound, made on a monkey an incomparably deeper impression than the most severe beating.
But of course, biting monkeys is not to everybody’s taste. In dogs, though, one can imitate the penal methods of a pack-leader and involve one’s own personal feelings much less by lifting the dog up by the neck and shaking him. This is the severest way that I know of punishing a dog and it never fails to make a deep impression on the offender.
In actual fact, a wolf-leader which could lift up a dog of Alsatian size and shake it would be a giant, a super-wolf, and as such the dog regards his master in the moment of chastisement. Although this form of punishment seems to us much less severe than a beating with cane or whip, we must be very chary of using it even in adult dogs if we do not wish to intimidate them altogether.
After this short discourse on the general rules of training, let us return to the three special accomplishments which I strongly advise every owner to teach his dog. The salient one is, in my opinion, implicit obedience to the words ‘Lie down’, since it converts every dog into a much more desirable and useful companion.
The animal must learn to lie down on command and not to move until recalled, and his ability to do this brings with it many advantages: the owner can leave the dog in any given place, such as outside a shop or house, so that the animal can nearly always accompany him and need rarely be left behind at home, a thing that implies the height of unhappiness to a really faithful dog.
However the chief value of ‘lying down’ is an educational one, since it involves essential progress in obedience. It is asking much of a dog to expect him to conquer his urge to follow his master and to remain alone in some uncongenial place, and the exercise is equivalent to an unpleasant duty.
Therefore the command to get up and follow comes as a happy release and he obeys joyfully, whereby ‘coming when he is called’ suddenly assumes the form of pleasure rather than of work. Very often, the only way of making an intractable dog come when he is called is through the intermediary stage of learning to ‘lie down’. Egon von Boyneburg, one of the best dog trainers I know, concentrated much more on ‘Down’ than on ‘Come here’, in his training of gun dogs.
He discovered a method of stopping, in mid-chase, dogs which, though normally obedient were such passionate hunters that their lust made them deaf to their master’s whistle.
He achieved this through an extension of the usual ‘Down’ training: the dogs were taught to interrupt on command any activity whatever, even that of a full chase, and to ‘lie down’ and ‘stay’ until recalled.
When a dog dashed off in pursuit of game, Baron Boyneburg made no attempt to recall him for the moment but simply cried with appropriate loudness, ‘Down’. Then one would see a cloud of dust thrown up by sudden braking, and after the cloud had dispersed …..