Originally published in the AKC GAZETTE – May 2019
The Welsh WAG - August 2019
Listening to the conversations at obedience classes and trials, there seems to be a common refrain about terriers, “You can’t make a terrier do anything” — as if that is a bad thing.
The people who say that are absolutely correct. You can’t make a terrier do anything he doesn’t want to do. You can’t shame or threaten him into coming, lying down, picking up a dumbbell, or jumping over a hurdle. What you must do is get him to want to do it on his own.
Motivating terriers requires that you understand the wants of the individual dog — what turns him on, what he considers play, and what treats and toys get him up and happy. Welsh are not cookie-cutter dogs, one just like the next, even when closely related. I have had sisters who were quite different; one loved toys and considered a game of catch was the perfect reward for a job well done, and the other considered treats the only thing worth working for.
Often the type of treat that gets the greatest response will change over time, so the dog who as a puppy loves mozzarella cheese as a reward later on might only work well for hot-dog pieces, no matter how much you try to vary the rewards. I have a bitch whose favorite treat is raw broccoli florets. Ask her if she wants broccoli, and she will dance in circles on her hind legs for it.
Differences in response can often be observed in puppies as young as 6 weeks. Some puppies are very excited by a piece of string cheese, while littermates care only for boiled chicken. While a dog’s preferences often change with maturity, you can’t change their treat preferences any more than you can convince many people that fried chicken livers is the greatest meal they could have.
Most Welsh have a great sense of smell and respond to the odor of the treats more than the taste. If your Welsh is not one of these, you might want to test his sense of smell. A sinus infection can reduce or remove all sense of smell for a long time. With a dog like that you may have to use some other treat or motivation. If you know a Bulldog breeder, you might ask what treats their dogs respond to, as that breed is not known for a sensitive sense of smell.
Terriers are also considered hard to train because they get bored easily. In most training clubs, classes are 45 minutes to an hour long. If only four or five dogs are working in the rally class, for instance, each can run the course a number of times, perhaps as many as eight to 10 times. That is fine for working or herding breeds, but most Welsh Terriers will do a fair run through the first time, a great run through the second and third times, then sit down with a “been there, done that” expression and not want to do it again. On that day. They are not stupid or untrainable. Their problem is the exact opposite: They have done it enough for the day and are now bored.
Remember that terriers were bred as vermin hunters. They need to change what they do frequently if they are going to stay ahead of the vermin they are supposed to kill. Give the dog a break during class, and you will see a great improvement. Better yet, bring two or three Welsh to train, and they will each get a workout. You may also discover that they compete with each other, each trying to outdo the other and earn more praise and lots more treats.
One of the most difficult things to teach a Welsh is “watch me.” Unless there is a piece of chicken hanging out of your mouth, you aren’t really all that interesting after all. So once in a while put a piece of cooked chicken in your mouth, say “watch me,” and when he looks at you, spit the chicken out into the dog’s face. Since he doesn’t know when to expect the chicken, he will need to watch you more carefully. (On the other hand, our new Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy watches whoever is training him and makes excellent eye contact. Sometimes I wonder if he is getting ready to start a conversation. His main problem in training is that his energy level is amazing. From the Archives I thought that Welsh Terriers were high energy, but as compared to the Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy, they are sloths.)
Remember that terriers are not robots. They work when they want to, for as long as it pleases them. It is your job to learn to read their body language so that you give them a break while they are still interested in working.
Yes, they are training you as much as you are training them. But then, that’s why we have terriers. It helps us develop a sense of humor and patience.
Welsh Terrier Club of America
AKC Gazette – May 2019
Welsh Terrier Column
Reprinted with permission from the AKC Gazette