CROSSOVER DOG QUESTIONS
(for Whole Dog Journal)
by Deborah A. Jones, Ph.D.
My first performance dog (obedience, agility,
pet therapy) was a crossover. She was an adult rescue and I was
her third home. Being a physically tough Labrador Retriever Katie
was basically able to tune out and withstand any unpleasant training
techniques. She simply shut down and did nothing. Many called
her stubborn because of this tendency. When I switched completely
to clicker training, her whole attitude and demeanor changed.
She earned a CDX in obedience (and one Utility leg), competed
successfully in agility (but had to be retired due to an injury),
and was a fantastic therapy dog. She still, at age 12, loves to
play 101 things to do with a box.
I would estimate that 95% of my human and canine
clients were crossovers. When people contacted us for information
on our classes I sent them a handout explaining a bit about clicker
training and how it differs from traditional methods. People were
very eager to find a way to train that didn’t involve force
The differences between crossover dogs and dogs
who have always been trained using positive methods are fairly
easy to see. Usually, crossover dogs have learned from their traditional
training that “when in doubt, it’s best to do nothing”.
If they’ve been punished for making mistakes in the past,
they have learned the concept that trying new things gets you
in trouble. So they become passive and wait to be told/shown exactly
what to do. Dogs who have been exposed only to positive methods,
however, are willing and eager to try new things. They are active
in the training process, rather than waiting for explicit instructions.
They also tend to be creative, which is a great asset when trying
to shape or capture new behaviors.
Even though I had been exposed to lots of traditional
training techniques in the past, I had never been a traditional
trainer. And once I went to college and learned about classical
and operant conditioning, I knew that most of the stuff I saw
happening that would be labeled traditional was not only ineffective,
but unfair to the dog, and often completely counterproductive.
I truly believe that educating the human half of the team in the
basics of learning theories is the key to fun and successful training.
I didn’t find it difficult to use primarily
positive reinforcement in my training, because that fits with
my desire to interact with my dogs in a cooperative and gentle
way. With my clients, I see them struggle because they have accepted
the myth that effective dog training must involve force, compulsion,
and intimidation. But, as soon as they see that there is another
way, most are very willing to give it a try, and are happy with
I would tell owners of crossover dogs to be
patient. Your dog has to unlearn old information before he can
completely participate in your new way of training. Progress should
occur on the dog’s timetable, not yours. Let your dog have
plenty of opportunity to discover that trying new things is reinforced,
not punished. Let go of the idea that you control the training
process, and let your dog be an active participant.
Deborah A. Jones, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Kent State University Stark
to Articles Index
© 2005 K9inFocus.com
Built and Maintained by Pet
| About | Books
& Videos | Reviews | Workshops
| Calendar | Seminar
Contact Form | Photos | Articles