Please Train Your Chow!
by Karen Privitello
From the time you first bring your Chow home, you are training it all the time, whether you intend to or not. You are either teaching your Chow how you want it to live, or allowing it to discover on its own what it can do. Statistics indicate that as few as 10% of all dogs get to live out their natural lives with their original owners. Most dogs will see the inside of an animal shelter at some point in their lives, either because they got lost, or because their owners sent them there. Chows in animal shelters have several things in common: First, they are seldom wearing their "lucky charms" (identification tags, rabies vaccination tags, and dog licenses); Second, they are rarely spayed or neutered; and Third, they have minimal, if any, training. Less than 1% of the Chows in shelters know to lie down on command.
Research indicates that dogs which are not properly socialized by the time they are 12 to 16 weeks old may never be well adjusted as adults. Other research indicates that there may be a second "fear" period that occurs between 6 and 8 months old. These facts explain why ethical Chow breeders and fanciers recommend Kindergarten Puppy Classes followed by Basic Obedience for all Chows.
There are many philosophies on training, and many different ways to get the job done. No method works for every dog, and a good trainer will have alternate ways of teaching different exercises. A book can't tell you what to do when your dog doesn't _______ [fill in the blank] because the book can't see why your dog failed to perform. Dogs, like people, do things for one of only a handful of reasons:
Because there is something in it for them,
Because they think there is something in it for them,
Because they want to avoid the consequences of not performing.
Likewise, when a dog fails to respond, he also has a reason:
I don't understand (or I'm confused)
I think I have a choice (nothing going on, I just don't feel like it)
Something is more important to me than you (I'm distracted)
The good trainer has a good idea what the dog's excuse is and will respond with an approach that directly addresses the dog's objection in a way that the dog clearly understands. The response should make sense to the owner, as well.
There are four ways to get your dog trained, each with advantages and disadvantages:
You can train your Chow yourself. The advantage of training your dog yourself is that it appears to be the cheapest. The disadvantages are many: in the long run, it may be the most expensive: if you mess it up, it could cost quite a bit to "fix" it - or - your dog may pay with his life. In addition, you miss an important opportunity for socialization. A good instructor has had much more experience than you (and your neighbors, friends, and co-workers) in teaching dogs and can help you avoid common "pitfalls" of dog training. Admitedly, in some areas it is difficult to locate training classes or inconvenient to patronize a trainer. However, if you speak to obedience instructors, most will admit that they have taken their dogs to some classes - even if it is their own - so that their dogs learn to work amid distraction, get socialization, and improve their own skills.
You can take your Chow to group classes. Aside from training your dog yourself, group lessons are probably the most economical way to get yourself and your dog some training. In addition, your dog gets some socialization and experience working in a distracting environment. Disadvantages include possible exposure to disease and perhaps, lack of individual attention if classes are too large. Group classes are not the place to deal with serious behavior problems such as aggression or separation anxiety.
You can hire a trainer to work with you privately (one-on-one). Private training may be on your property, or at a different location, depending on which services the trainer offers. Scheduling is more flexible and you have your instructor's full attention. This is really the only way to deal with certain kinds of behavior problems, or problems which are only an issue at home (for instance, bolting out the front door). Private sessions are generally more expensive and may or may not provide socialization and distraction.
You can send your dog away for training. The lazy man's dog training (or the busy one's) this is the least desirable way to get the job done. Aside from being expensive, much of training is about your relationship with your Chow. When you send your dog away for training, someone else is establishing the master's relationship with the dog - which generally doesn't transfer to the actual owner when the dog is returned. More importantly, you aren't there to insure that your dog is being treated kindly and fairly.
We send our children to school for a minimum of 12 years so that they learn to be responsible, well-adjusted adults. If the child lived to be 120 years, it would amount to 10% of his or her life, minimum. Our children share our language, and our culture. Doesn't it make sense to invest 6 months to a year training a Chow, who shares neither our language nor our culture, so that he or she grows up to be a well-adjusted adult?
Owning a Chow is not a right, it is a privilege. If we don't raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted Chows, we perpetuate the stereotype of the nasty tempered Chow and support the claim of some legislators that the average person is not responsible enough to own the breed. If enough legislators feel this way, we will lose the privilege of owning Chows through breed specific ordinances banning them.
© 2003 Karen Privitello, all rights reserved. Reproduced here with permission. Contact Vicki for reprint permission.