The following excerpt is taken from the introduction to the book ‘Dog Training by Amateurs’ by R Sharpe, a professional dog trainer who published the first edition of his book in 1924. Although some of his techniques are no longer acceptable, there is still a lot to be learned from this book, in particular the fact that preventing bad habits is always better than curing them. The text is included to give you a flavour of his writing, as well as an introduction to his ‘pioneering’ methods of training – many of which have been discussed in even earlier texts. Enjoy, and if you get a chance to pick up the book, I would recommend it.
I think I can justly claim to be the pioneer of modern dog training, and also to have trained more spaniels and retrievers than any other living man. This claim is not made in any boastful spirit but with a view to showing that my methods must be sound, for, as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Why more sportsmen do not train their own dogs is something of a mystery to me, unless it is that they mostly have the idea that the work must be carried out in the fields and woods right away from home. In reality the whole thing can be done in the garden on the lawn, sufficiently at least for the dog to pick up the ultimate realities in a couple or three days during the actual shooting season. All that is necessary is to gain absolute control and steadiness; the rest is easy.
A certain number of personal qualifications are necessary. This is what I wrote about one of these in 1895: “one thing I wish to impress upon my readers is this, that on no account must the person lose his temper with a puppy, for, depend upon it, if he does his pupil will know it quite as soon as he does himself, and will be afraid and so lose confidence in his tutor.”
To gain the confidence of a puppy is often most easily accomplished by going the quickest way to his heart, and that is down his throat. To this end a few tasty bits of biscuit introduced at times of visiting the kennels will soon lead to satisfactory results. The first thing that a puppy has to do is to sit down and to remain down until I move on. It is then accustomed to the idea that a click of the tongue is a signal they may get up and follow.
When this lesson has been given the short check cord about 10 yards long is attached to the collar, so that should the puppy be inclined to run off, the foot may be pressed on record as a proof that it is your wish is that must henceforth prevail. Many details of training aim at implementing the dog’s mind the feeling that some invisible control exists between him and his master.
The old idea of training a dog to the gun was to take a retrievers straight out into the shooting field, often enough of the party of guns, and should the first head of game that got up. Before the end of the day the puppy would be running into every shot and chasing every head of ground game that got up. Such a proceeding is nothing less than putting the cart in front of the horse; in other words introducing the novice to the world before he had been trained to know right from wrong.
In the case of the spaniel of the old school the first thing would be to send it into a thick bush full of rabbits and let it hunt and chase and generally get out of hand. No wonder the very few spaniels of those days ever became perfectly steady. Those that did so only attained wisdom by the aid of numerous and unmerciful thrashings. No doubt this has some connection with the old saying, “a spaniel, a woman, a walnut tree, the more you thrash them the better they be.”
Even today I am often told that it is impossible to train the spaniel with a liberal use of the whip. Nothing is further from the truth, for at least 50% of the many hundreds which passed through my hands have never once been touched with whip or stick.
This is not to say that no dog must ever be chastised, for in some cases punishment is absolutely necessary. On such occasions it must be done well, the usual result being that it never has to be repeated.
The great secret of dog training is never to give an order unless you can compel you pupil to obey. More especially is this the case in the earliest lesson of all, that of teaching obedience. Behind this rule is the art of conveying to the canine intelligence the thing that is required.