Responses to visual stimuli

How a dog responds to visual stimuli is a fancy way of saying how a dog responds to moving objects. For purposes of training, it relates to the dog's distractibility when faced with something that moves. This, too, varies from breed to breed and depends on the nature of the moving object. The following are a few examples:

1 Terriers are notoriously distractible. Our Yorkshire Terrier, although technically a member of the Toy Group, was convinced that every moving leaf or blade of grass had to be investigated. Although this made perfect sense to him, it made training him to pay attention a real challenge.

1 In the Hound Group, some breeds, such as Afghan Hounds, Borzois, or Salukis, called sight hounds, aren't much interested in objects close by and, instead, focus on those far away. Others, such as the Basset Hound, Beagle, or Bloodhound, are more stimulated by scents on the ground or in the air than by moving objects. Training a Beagle to heel — that is, walk on a loose leash while paying attention to you and not sniffing the ground — becomes a Herculean task.

i The guarding breeds, such as the German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, and Rottweiler, were bred to survey their surroundings — to keep everything in sight, as it were. They, too, find it difficult to focus exclusively on you in the presence of distractions. Remember, their job is to be alert to what's going on around them.

1 The weavers of the Canton of Berne used the Bernese Mountain Dog as a draft dog, drawing small wagons loaded with baskets to the marketplace. As a breed, moving objects don't usually excite these dogs. After all, it would hardly do for the little fellow to chase a cat with his wagon bouncing behind him.

1 The Newfoundland, an ordinarily sedate companion (see Figure 9-2), becomes a raving maniac near water with his instinctive desire to rescue any and all swimmers, totally disregarding that they may not want to be rescued.

Figure 9-2:

The Newfoundland, a large breed, is a laid-back dog except around water.

Figure 9-2:

The Newfoundland, a large breed, is a laid-back dog except around water.

Sound sensitivity

Some dogs have a keener sense of hearing than others, to the point where loud noises literally hurt their ears. One of our Landseers would leave the room anytime the TV was turned on. Fear of thunder can be the result of sound sensitivity.

Under ordinary circumstances, sound sensitivity isn't a problem, but it can affect the dog's ability to concentrate in the presence of moderate to loud noises. A car backfiring causes this dog to jump out of his hide, whereas it only elicits a curious expression from another dog.

Touch sensitivity

A dog's threshold of discomfort depends on two things:

1 His touch sensitivity 1 What he's doing at the particular time

For purposes of training and for knowing what equipment to use, you need to have some idea of Buddy's touch sensitivity. For example, when a dog doesn't readily respond to the training collar, he's all too quickly labeled as stubborn or stupid. But nothing could be farther from the truth. It's the trainer's responsibility to select the right training equipment so that the dog does respond.

Discomfort thresholds tend to be breed-specific. For example, we'd expect that a Labrador Retriever, who's supposed to be able to cover all manner of terrain, as well as retrieve in ice-cold water, would have a high discomfort threshold. Shetland Sheepdogs tend to be quite touch sensitive and respond promptly to the training collar. What one dog hardly notices makes another one change his behavior. And therein lies the secret of which piece of training equipment to use.

Touch sensitivity isn't size-related. Our Yorkshire Terrier had a very high discomfort threshold. That, plus his sight sensitivity, made training him a real challenge. Neither is it age related. A puppy doesn't start out as touch sensitive and become insensitive as he grows older. There may be some increase in insensitivity, but it's insignificant. A dog's touch sensitivity, however, is affected by what he's doing. In hot pursuit of a rabbit, his discomfort threshold goes up, as it would during a fight.

After you have an idea of Buddy's discomfort threshold, you know how to handle him and the type of training equipment you need.

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