Something had been bothering me since attending Mr Onen’s training day in August. It stuck in my head for days afterward. One simple sentence that morning when he said, ‘all dogs were stupid’. I could almost feel the mental resistance among my fellow handlers. He was on the verge of losing our attention in that single moment…..
It didn’t make sense. His complete respect and handling of the dogs throughout the day was in direct contradiction to what he stated that morning. I saw how some simple techniques applied to my own dog on the day could improve him and that alone was just enough to spur me on.
Then the penny dropped. About a week or so after attending his training day I think I figured it out. Norman’s speech that morning was aimed at making us believe our dogs were of a lesser intellignce. What naturally follows when any of us attempt to communicate with a person or animal of lower intelligemce is that we speak less and communicate more through use of body language and other cue’s.
Of course, in our minds, we all know that dogs do not understand the English language. Yet, on any given day at a training class or working test we repeatedly see handlers have full conversations with their dogs and get frustrated when their dog does not respond. In reality what happens is that the dog gets so caught up in the endless nagging voice, rather like a dog barking in their face, that they switch off. They shut down or simply give the two fingers and run off…
The irony is we’re also acutely aware of the fact that dogs are experts at reading non-verbal cues both from other dogs and us humans. They learn very quickly when you’re getting ready to go for a walk and, most well socialised dogs, understand very clearly the intentions of other dogs without ever having to utter a single syllable..
Everything about the techniques which Mr Onen applied that day involved and revolved around silencing the mouth and using other signals. I watched him that day as he took a young dog that was constantly pulling forward on his owner. He held the rope lead loosely over two fingers and by use of slight pressure and slowing his walking pace the dog was looking to him for signals within minutes. Not a single word was spoken.
The silence factor took a while for me to comprehend. It was only after I began working with my own dogs in the following days, that I finally understood. Then everything began to make sense. Is it just a happy coincidence that all those men and women who successfully compete at the top level of working tests and field trials are people of few words?
Maybe , in relation to retriever training, the less said the better….