Why should you train your pet?
Training your pet to follow basic commands is a practical need, as a pet such as a dog or horse is easier to look after if it will comply with your wishes and be in tune with what is required. You will both enjoy the relationship more, if you can understand each other. In the case of horses, it could be the difference between getting out of the path of danger - or not - whilst out on a ride. (Training, in equestrian terms, is known as schooling.) For dogs, it’s about being able to go on walks and be confident they will come back when off the lead or enjoy a game of fetch. Many animals enjoy pleasing their owners (praises is very important in training!).
The umbrella of animal training refers to teaching animals specific responses to conditions or stimuli. Training can be for companionship, detection, protection or entertainment. Methods vary according to the breed. Anyone training an animal should consider the natural behaviour of the animal and have empathy and consideration at all times.
Sometimes training is just about learning how to behave in the home for example, you like your indoor cat to use a litter tray and not your best jumper, and you may prefer your dog not to beg for food or sit on the sofa. Social skills will also improve with training – for example teaching your dog to not jump up onto your friend’s clean trousers, or to bark at everything, or to chase cats. A cat seems only to learn new skills which it wants to learn, whereas a dog is more compliant. Sometimes training is safely orientated – a horse or pony has to learn how to behave whilst you are leading him or in its stable with him as they don’t know the power of their own strength.
So training can be about creating a bond and a mutual understanding, not necessarily learning tricks. In the case of working animals – sheepdogs, gundogs, police horses, sniffer dogs, assistance dogs to name a few – training is all about learning a new skill set which is needed. You only have to see an assistance dog at work leading its visually-impaired owner across a busy road to realise what an extraordinary level of mutual trust and understanding has been established. And if you have seen a film featuring a dog, cat, horse, monkey or bird then that animal is likely to have been supplied by a specialist trainer who will teach animals camera-ready skills. Famous animals on screen have included Pal (the original Lassie, whose son Lassie Junior took over the role) and Terry the terrier who played Toto in the Wizard of Oz. Golden Cloud the horse appeared in movies before being purchased by Roy Rogers and renamed Trigger. Many movie cowboys had a trained horse which did jumping and riding tricks, but Trigger could take direction, and performed over a hundred tricks, such as untying Roy’s hands, walking on his hind legs, dancing and playing dead, all by voice command.
In the United States, selected inmates in prisons are used to train service dogs. In addition to adding to the short-supply of service animals, the improved social skills and behaviour of inmates has been recognised.
But when can training go too far?
Many of us have views about animals, particularly wild animals, kept in enclosures and brought out to entertain us. Whilst most parks are humane and considerate, some are not. Some parks will choose to entertain us in ways which only make use of the animal’s natural activities such as feeding time for the penguins and this could be argued as being ‘educational’ and not ‘entertainment’. Nowadays, not many of us want to see a tiger balancing on a box at the bequest of its master. For the vast majority of us, this isn’t entertainment and we would only enjoy seeing it if we believed the tiger was well cared for and, ultimately, happy.
Today’s televised talent shows dominate mainstream television, and seem to be a route to fame and fortune. Animals feature in this programmes, and whilst it’s clear that the production companies take advice and act sensibly, the appearance of animals still cause a little unrest.
We know that dogs enjoy training as they enjoy a close bond with their owner and many dogs are eager to please. No-one can forget Ashleigh and Pudsey winning Britain’s Got Talent in 2012 but the bond and the relationship was delightful to see, and Pudsey was clearly having a whale of a time. In 2015, Jules and Matisse won the coveted title, and again Matisse looked very happy.
And that’s the key. With us humans, we either like jogging / dancing / playing chess or whatever, or we don’t. Some things we enjoy, and some things we don’t. It’s the same with dogs – some will relish training and learn very quickly, but others won’t. Whilst you can teach your dog basic skills such as ‘sit’, ‘wait’ etc., it is well worth attending dog training classes as your dog will be learning in a safe and professional environment. Certainly, in the context of advanced training such as agility or dancing, you’ll need to be steered by professional tuition and the training experts can also guide you as to whether your dog is enjoying or not! If you think back to those animals who have excelled with their training, such as Trigger the horse, it is clear they really enjoyed it. Enjoyment is the key to successful training!