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More on Training Methods

Reprinted from March 22, 2013

OK, so in my previous entry, I started to talk about dog training. I recently watched a local obedience training class and I wanted to jump in and grab the instructor and shake him/her up and rescue the dogs from his/her outdated training style. Choke chains, pinch collars, popping the lead, shouting commands, luring - and dogs that predictably looked worried, weren’t interested in the treats, and were more interested in the dog on the other side of the room than in their owners. The owners didn’t look happy either. It was total chaos. How can anyone enjoy learning in that environment? Dog owners need to be more careful when picking their trainers! There are many choices out there, and many are quite good. The key is to do your homework and find out what style of training you want to chose for yourself and your dog!

I have been carefully going through my library of books, online sources, and DVD’s - I’m trying to figure out the best resources out there to pass on to my puppy homes. I have compiled my list of favorites - which I forward to potential future puppy homes - but I will admit that it seems to always be morphing as time goes on. Basically, I have moved far away from the traditional obedience training methods (control, command, lure and correct) to shaping behavior (operant conditioning) that involves encouragement, teaching the dog to think, motivation, and drive. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to see an upbeat, happy and motivated dog. There are a number of outstanding agility dog trainers, such as Susan Garrett (, Sylvia Trkman (, Linda Mecklenburg (awesomepaws), One Mind Dogs,

etc., and I have also been quite impressed with the obedience and schutzhund trainer, Michael Ellis ( I would highly recommend watching his Philosophy of Dog Training video - he explains SO many important details that every dog owner needs to understand if they want to succeed in building a bond with their dog. (Just a side note, but I am not a huge fan of luring as a tool in training - especially for a show dog - but I understand that there are times when you might need to have that option in your tool bag). He is particularly good at motivating dogs and building intensity and drive. I would also like to recommend Bad Dog Agility - even if you are not into agility, they have a blog and a podcast where you can learn a great deal about various styles of training, as well as hear interviews of many top trainers. Hint, if you are thinking about taking an online dog training course, listen to their podcast on what to look for (see episode 3 of the podcasts). I also understand that Sylvia Trkman has some wonderful DVD’s on topics ranging from building your bond with your dog to teaching your dog to think, and of course, agility training - I have not had a chance to review her videos, but I have been mesmerized when watching my friend’s dog trained using her techniques. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

I also love Kyra Sundance’s various books on trick training, and she has a great podcast with insight into why some methods work and how to think through a training problem. Her training is almost more about how to problem solve than it is about training the tricks, and it’s fun to listen to her puzzle out how to shape a dog for some oddball commercial shoot.

OK, so let’s say you are thinking about adding a puppy to your family. It is critical for puppies to have a chance to socialize with other similar sized puppies - finding the right puppy class is essential. Please, do your homework carefully and find a good trainer well in advance of getting your puppy. Make sure your trainer’s philosophy agrees with what feels right to you. Now, as you prepare for your puppy, I’m going to suggest that you study some of the training books/DVDs/streaming videos/on line courses/blogs, and please watch that Michael Ellis video (that one is free, but you might even want to purchase some of his streaming videos), and then I have an assignment for you. Get yourself a bowl full of dimes or quarters, and use them as “treats” while you train your spouse and/or your kids to perform a task. It can be sitting on a stool, standing on an upturned bucket, hugging a tree, whatever you want it to be. The object is to learn the optimal timing of the “click” or “YES” marker, the timing of the reward, the encouragement of the “good job” and the body language that you use, or refrain from using, in order to shape the behavior. It’s better to learn these methods with a human than to make the mistakes (that we all make) when you are working with your puppy. Make sure you listen to feedback from your kid/spouse/friend on what worked, what didn’t, what was confusing and what you can do to improve your communication. You’ll have lots of fun, your kids will appreciate the spending money, and you will be learning how to coordinate your timing well before the puppy bounds happily into your home.

One last thing, you can find many dog training videos on line. Go to YouTube and start searching under key words like “Crate Games” and you will find a ton of information for free. The only problem is that you may not be able to tell which ones are really bad examples - but at least it didn’t cost you anything to take a look. Just remember that dog training is human training too, so start your adventure today!

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