Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Harsh" and "Gentle" Ridgeback Training

I tend to think that “harsh” treatment may on occasion need to be used. I don’t rule it out. I have some experience with training “harshness” in that Susan’s father’s favorite trainer was Dick Koehler ( ). The last dog Susan took through a Dick Koehler class was Trooper (Dick Koehler died in 1998). As someone recently said, the Ridgeback is a large powerful dog, and a slightly built woman needs to have him or her under tight control if she isn’t to be pulled over. Trooper was trained (by Dick Koehler’s “harsh” methods) such that Susan was able to keep him under perfect control.

His methods worked. I didn’t use them when I was with Trooper; because we were doing different things, but Susan used them. She could put him on a stay unleashed out in front of the library, go in, find the books she wanted and come out again and Trooper wouldn’t have budged one inch. He was utterly obedient to Susan. Furthermore, we discovered that Trooper realized he needed to be gentle with slightly-built females. A young niece took him for a walk and Trooper was very careful with her. In my writing I have mostly described how Trooper was with me, but he was Susan’s dog before he was mine, and he was trained by methods many would describe as “harsh.”

By the time we lost Trooper and got Ginger, not only was Dick Koehler gone, but there seemed to be no good trainers in our area; so Susan hoped to train Ginger herself and get her into agility, but Susan’s health didn’t permit that; so Ginger never received the Koehler training. The “training” of Ginger and Sage was left up to me. I didn’t think the Koehler method was suitable for these girls. I didn’t object to Susan’s putting Trooper through it, but I wasn’t going to put Ginger and Sage through it. I have described the sort of thing I have done with Ginger and Sage. They are obedient in everything I think important. I don’t insist that they do everything as though they were in boot camp on a parade ground. I am no martinet. Lots of things are optional.

I have described Ginger and Sage being on their own at the river as the go off in chase of rabbits, but when they were puppies I was protective of them. Ginger, for example was afraid of a water puddle at the end of the street during a rain; so I picked her up and carried her across. I didn’t make a big deal of it. I just scooped her up and carried her. Someone else might have dragged her across, but I couldn’t do that. I carried her. Did she suffer in later life for that coddling? I have seen no evidence of it.

I once posed the question about whether Ridgebacks were being bred to be softer. Someone might argue that my anecdotal evidence (Ginger and Sage being softer than Trooper) might be accounted for by the different training methods. Trooper was trained under the Dick Koehler (harsh) method; whereas Ginger and Sage were trained by the Lawrence Helm (gentle) method. I wouldn’t rule that out totally. I tend to think “breeding” is the prime ingredient but training may have added to their softness. I have certainly given them no reason to be anything other than “soft.”

And, if I am responsible for some of the “softness” of Ginger and Sage, then so be it. I will be training my next Ridgeback the same way I’ve trained my girls. If I get a Ridgeback from a breeder other than Natalie Carlton next time, and it turns out to be more like the Ridgebacks of old, it won’t be because anything I do.

But I hasten to add that there are any number of training methods; so one should feel free to use a method he or she is comfortable with – something suitable to what is needed. Susan used the Koehler method initially because it was recommended to her by her father, but she came to believe in it and it did work for her. But I take Ginger and Sage for outings where they are permitted to chase rabbits and explore through brush off leash. The Koehler method is of no use to me.

[What does Dick Koehler have to do with Cesar Milan? Nothing directly, but if someone thinks Cesar’s methods are harsh, they would be appalled at Dick Koehler’s methods. Compared to Dick Koehler, Cesar Milan is a wimp.]

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