In most things, there are well meaning people who give bad advice. Dog training is far from exempt. We hear misguided suggestions all of the time. Things like:
- If you want your dog to have a soft mouth for hunting, don't teach them to tug.
- If you want your dog to love tugging, don't teach them to drop it.
- If you want your dog to be a Show Dog and do well in the Conformation ring, don't teach them to sit!
We cry FOUL! We love our dogs and we love to teach them new things. Because we tend to gravitate towards versatile dogs, we often have to cross train to accomodate different sports. Dogs are brilliant creatures and with the right information, they can learn any behaviours - even when they contradict another skill you're teaching. I have had several Tollers who have all competed successfully in Conformation, where they aren't supposed to sit, as well as Competition Obedience, where they are expected to sit automatically. They've played Flyball, where they tug like fiends and have still been able to compete in Hunt Tests where they have to gently hold fowl so as not to damage it. Any damage resulting from hard mouth in Field work is an automatic failure, but tugging is a fantastic reward and motivation in a Flyball environment. There are important reasons for me to teach both skills.
The fact that one venue contradicts another doesn't mean you can't play in both. You just need to be thorough and not assume - which means you need to teach all of the behaviours and skills you want. It's all in the way you convey information and the rules you hold onto for the game. For example, before we go into the Conformation ring, I've thoroughly taught my dog to "stack" on command and he's just as well versed in that behaviour as he is in a response to the verbal command to sit. That way, I can tell him what I'd like him to do and he understands because of the time I've taken to teach him. If I were to assume and not take the time to teach for both venues, my dog will likely resort to the skills he knows that hold the highest value. For example, imagine I've worked hard to teach my dog basic obedience, but not bothered to teach him to stand nicely in the Conformation ring. He knows to walk nicely on a loose leash and sits when I stop moving. He has a history of reinforcement for sitting when I stop. Therefore, when we run around the Conformation ring and come to a stop in front of the judge, my dog will naturally take the cue from me stopping to mean he should sit.
If on the other hand, I've taken enough time to also teach my dog a "stack" command, I can use that in the ring. Now instead of reverting to the sit behaviour, he'll have another skill in his mind and when I tell him to stack for the judge, that's the position I will get. Mistakes happen when distractions are too high or the dog is overwhelmed, but if you've taken the appropriate time to train the skill you're expecting to see, baring an honest error, your dog will look great in both the Conformation and Obedience rings.
These same thoughts can apply to skills at home. It stands to reason that if I want my dog to not be a barking nuisance, I should teach him manners and to respond to a quiet command. Does this now mean he won't or can't bark any other time? If I want my dog to be polite and not jump on my guests, can I now not ever invite him to jump on me or into my lap? Both of these examples illustrate perfect situations where we can cross train. One of the simplist ways of eliminating an unwanted behaviour is to put it on cue and have clear and consise criteria for the dog to meet. Check out this video with Kayl McCann teaching steps to put both "speak" and "quiet" on command with Toy Poodle, Hippie-Shake:
Dogs are capable of understanding literally hundreds of behaviours and if you take the time to teach each one, you'll be able to cross train your dog in whatever you'd like. It's when we leave things to chance that dogs will start guessing and they typically go back to the things that usually pay off in some way - self-rewards included. Keep your criteria clear and your expectation high and you won't go wrong!