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Dog trainer Karen Wild asks: Could your dog fly a plane?

Karen Wild column EMN-140715-124751001
Karen Wild column EMN-140715-124751001

For those of you with Sky One channel (unlike me, we are still in the dark ages in our house) an interesting show will challenge three dogs to fly a plane.

I can hear your cries: 'I can't even get him to toilet in the garden!' and 'She still pinches my sandwiches from the worktop!'

Truly, the task sounds like something from Doctor Who or The X Files, but in fact it is as straightforward as any training when you learn what is involved. What takes the effort is understanding, skill as a trainer, and of course, a dog that might have the resilience to learn a longer chain of events.

Head trainer Mat Ward, my colleague at the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, is leading the team but I don't have insider knowledge yet. What I do know is that this is all reward-based methods, using patience and kindness to build up the dogs' skill.

Specially bred dogs were not used. In fact, the 12 dogs being trained were recruited from rescue centres and some were even strays. Can you look your own dog up and down and see if they could do it too (of course they can - the question is, can you?).

Perhaps the breeds chosen were specific, to help the task? No, not at all. Pedigree papers do not guarantee trainability. Breeds chosen for the show vary from a Pyrenean Shepherd crossbreed, a collie-lurcher cross, even a terrier-beagle cross called Spot. Beagle and terrier owners look out! Don't decide your dog can't learn just because they are a specific breed.

In fact, consider that the brightest dogs might be the ones getting themselves into trouble simply because they do not have enough to do. Idle paws make mischief!

Training any task always looks overwhelming at first. When I am teaching the tiniest puppy or the bounciest Dalmatian, the task is to decide what stages need to be taught, and in what order.

We also have to decide what wages the dog will work for. Dog treats look great in the packet, but does the dog think they are better than the toast crust you give away for free every morning?

Dogs in New Zealand have already been trained to drive a car (search YouTube). Will we realise that training is the best way to get any behaviour from a dog, let alone fly a plane.

I am looking forward to seeing your results locally!


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