Any good trainer learns more from the dogs they work with than from the people they meet. I’m eternally grateful to the many human mentors and teachers I’ve had over the years, but my daily dog obedience training instructors are the dogs below.
To see the Human Staff Bio, check it out here: Meet The Trainer
McLaren Shiraz, CD, RE, CGC
Shira came to me from a public shelter where she had been dumped by her owner when she was 11 months old. She was so filthy I thought she was Blue Merle, not Red. Imagine my shock after I had bathed her 3 times to get it all off!
Shira is every trainer’s dream dog. “Just show me what you want and I’ll do it over and over and over if you just give me attention and pets.” That doesn’t mean she doesn’t come without training problems. Shira suffers from non-chronic Pancreatitis, which means that as long as her diet is consistent and low-fat she shouldn’t have any problems. She is restricted to 1 kibble and 1 “treat” and since she gets these outside of training time they’re not all that exciting for her.
Her training is designed around play and praise and “mommy and me” time. Any corrections cause her stress. She really likes working just to make you happy and if you’re not, well, why do it? Clicker training is used to mark new, complicated tasks, but on the whole she prefers luring and being shown the task. You can see her working hard to learn and if she didn’t get it right, she’ll try it again. We are currently working on her Open and Utility exercises and she should be ring ready early 2013.
Roxie Heart, RE, CGC
Roxie came to me from a local public shelter where she had been found as a stray. Someone had adopted her and the shelter spayed her, but the adopter never came back. She was placed back in a kennel where her incision became severely infected. She wouldn’t have lasted much longer.
Roxie was the “perfect” dog for 21 days after bringing her home. I say “perfect” in quotes because she was rather robotic and unengaged, but didn’t have any destructive behaviors. On the 22nd day I came home to a backyard full of pillow stuffing. Every pillow in the house had been hauled through the doggy door and disemboweled in snowy mounds. The Honeymoon Period was over. Now that the “real” Roxie had finally showed up, it was time to start from scratch. She still had trust and abandonment issues, but had been taken under Maggie’s wing (see Maggie below,) so she started feeling comfortable. It took her about 6 months to fully trust me.
Having no treat issues like I do with Shira, Rox has been primarily clicker trained and she loves it. It gives her puzzles to figure out and keeps her excited and engaged. Her downfall is once she is doing things consistently and perfectly she doesn’t see the point in doing them over and over. “I did it right! Why are you making me do it again?” As her trainer and handler I had to adjust the “Let’s work on this one thing for the next 10 minutes,” to “Let’s work on these 5 things for the next 10 minutes.” Changing things up keeps her brain active. Roxie completely shuts down with traditional methods, not understanding why a correction was needed and actually refusing to work any more if they are used. She’s one leg shy of her CD title, which we should get this fall.
Paisley came to me from a public shelter where she’d been dumped by her owners at 11 months old with the excuse that “she needs training.” She’d been bounced from one shelter to another as her times expired in the hopes of getting her adopted. I found her at her last chance.
Paisley is every dog owner’s worst nightmare. When you welcome a new rescue pet into your home you assume that there will be one or two issues to deal with, but after some work you’ll settle into a life of fun and friendship. Paisley hasn’t had “one or two” issues, she’s had them all: dog aggression, barking, digging and plant removal, deck eating, laundry thievery, counter surfing, trash raiding, and the destruction of one antique chair and a pair of expensive prescription glasses.
Training consists of framing tasks as teamwork, “I do this and you do that.” Distractions are a problem, even during play. “Oh! Look! A bird!” in the middle of a retrieve is not uncommon, so we work on single tasks for very short periods of time and give small jackpot treats when she ignores what has distracted her. Clicker training for Paisley is great if she’s able to concentrate, if she’s distracted she loses track of what she was working on and has to be reminded. Paisley is still a work in progress. We’ve conquered most of the household bad behavior (barking resurrects itself in the spring when all the wildlife critters start wandering the yard,) and have begun training in NoseWork.
As a footnote, I assure you Paisley has many redeeming qualities as well. She’s an excellent cuddler, foot warmer, alarm clock and door stop and keeps the yard safe from the evil squirrels trying to steal her figs.
Maggie, CGC: Aug. 6, 1994- June 6, 2009
Maggie came to me as a neglected and slightly abused 14 week old puppy.
Maggie was the greatest dog trainer I’ve ever met. She could take any dog new to the house and have them fully trained in household rules (including potty training) in about 2 weeks. Roxie (above) was her last trainee. Maggie recognized that what Roxie really needed was to learn how to play, so Maggie taught her to catch birds out of the air, play tuggy, chase and tag, puppy wrestling and all the rest.
I wish I’d had the time to compete with Maggie when she was younger. She’d have been awesome at it. As it is, at age 13, she finally got her CGC and beat out all the “whipper snappers” also trying to qualify that day.
Maggie’s training method was primarily correction, an immediate “It’s ok, just don’t do it again” and then “Let’s play.” For training new tasks Maggie used show and tell. Shira had some confidence problems with things that moved. Her Kong had gone into a bucket that was slightly askew and moved when she tried to retrieve the Kong. Even with encouragement, she’d only go so far as to make the bucket move and then give up. Maggie watched Shira do this 4 or 5 times, walked over, got the Kong out of the bucket and dropped it at Shira’s feet. After a few more fun fetches, I again made the Kong go into the bucket. Shira quickly retrieved it – teetering bucket and all.
“Dog training dog” isn’t exactly the same as “human training dog.” There are subtleties in movement, vocalizations, timing and intensity that we humans cannot fully understand or replicate. If you’re taking animosity and anger and frustration into daily training then you’re basically swimming upstream. Maggie ended every lesson with play! Even if I’m busy and it’s only for a minute, I always make time for a quick “Let’s play!” Thank you Maggie.