Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reflecting on Dog Training Methods

(subtitle: Always Listen to Your Heart & Mind)

I entered the world of dog training a little over two years ago when Katie joined our home in January of 2007. I immediately enrolled 10 week old Katie into Puppy Class at the Little Rock Dog Training Club and it opened a whole new world to us. During the same time I was reading books about training dogs such as The Newfoundland Puppy Book, The Other End of the Leash, and Outwitting Dogs.

Quickly my brain became bombarded by information and dog training methods. As Katie progressed through puppy class, beginner’s obedience, sub novice, novice rally obedience, advanced rally obedience, novice class (multiple times in this one) and now drafting, I was exposed to 8 different teachers. Then when Louie came along almost a year ago and went though puppy class (once with me and once with Gary), conformation class, beginner’s obedience, CGC class, sub novice and now in both advanced rally obedience and novice class, I was exposed to 6 more teachers. Each of the 14 teachers I have taken classes with has their own special methods for training dogs. As a newbie to dog training this has proven to be a bit confusing and disheartening for me. One teacher would tell me that my previously learned way of doing something was the wrong way and spend 8 weeks teaching me his method. Then the next one would tell me something different. I am not saying that any of these teachers were wrong. I think they all have valid training methods which have been successful for them with their own dogs. But, what I am realizing now is that I have to tailor my teaching style to fit my dogs’ specific personalities and to one that will cultivate the type of relationship I want to have with them. I will always listen to and be grateful for the advice and teaching of others, but from now on I am going to base my course of action on what I believe in my heart and mind to be the best methods for Katie and Louie. If I disagree with what a teacher says I will diplomatically tell them why.

Last night when our teacher suggested we talk to our dogs as little as possible during training I approached her after class and gave her a brief summary of what I said above. I explained that I am going to be talking to Louie in class for now because I believe that is what he needs at this point. Eventually, I will wean him off of hearing my voice so often, but right now he is still a puppy at 13 months old. Hearing Mama’s voice motivates him. Our previous teacher encouraged us to talk to our dogs and that seemed very helpful to me. After Louie completely understands the exercises and has created a strong habit of doing things the right way then I will reevaluate and refine my method. The teacher was extremely understanding and I am looking forward to learning a lot in her class.

Two major things were the catalyst for this train of thought and subsequent post. First, I was thinking about how much easier it has been to train Louie than it was to train Katie. Of course that is partly because they do have different personalities and because I had a much bigger learning curve when I first started with Katie. But, I also believe that through working with Katie as my Guinea pig I slowly discovered the best ways to teach my Newfies. Louie and I have benefitted from the mistakes I made and learned from with his sister. I’m sure that future dogs that I train will also benefit from mistakes I make with Louie. I still have a long way to go as a trainer so Louie is sort of a Guinea pig too.

The second catalyst for this reflection was some information given to me by a new friend from the dog club. She sent me a link to a website that carefully outlines the best dog training method that I have ever read about. It is all positive training which is a must for me. This method teaches the dog self control and to use their brains instead of simply teaching the dogs to do tricks. By teaching the dogs how to problem solve, the method actually makes it easier and faster for the dogs to learn new skills. There are seven levels to this method. I have started out with level one by filling the gaps in Katie and Louie’s training. Since they already have quite a bit of experience they will likely progress through the first few levels pretty quickly. I’m so excited about diving deeper into this training method. It’s called Mind to Mind and was created by Sue Ailsby. Here is the link if you want to check it out.

My goals with Katie and Louie are to be their pack leader, Mama and best friend. I truly believe that you can be all of these at the same time. I want our dogs to brighten the lives of people that they meet (at least the ones who aren’t repulsed by a little drool) and for Katie and Louie to lead a life filled with joy. Some people wonder why I spend so much time training our dogs. I do it because it’s fun for Katie, Louie and me. As I’ve said before Newfs (along with many other breeds) are working dogs. In order for them to be completely fulfilled, well balanced and happy they need to be mentally and physically challenged. My job is to make sure those needs are met and I’m having a wonderful time doing it.

1 comment:

Kathryn and Ari said...

I really enjoyed this post, and I can empathize with how difficult it can be to hear so many different ideas at once. But I also know from reading this blog that you are someone who loves your dogs and wants the very best for them. And that alone will lead you to the right decision!

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