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All dogs are different, as their training should be

There are about as many theories on dog training as there are dog trainers.

Simplified, most theories on training can be classified as reward based, correction based or a combination of the two. Reward based training ignores undesirable behaviors and re-enforces (rewards) the desired or good behaviors. Correction based training punishes or corrects the undesirable behaviors theorizing that the dog will avoid behaviors that elicit a correction.

Each camp has its staunch purists who refuse to cross the line. Personally, I believe in using the best of both training philosophies.

Champions of correction-based training are strong pack leaders and use that position very effectively in their training. Misbehavior by the dog is not tolerated and is immediately corrected. There is no doubt in Rover's mind as to who is in charge. Praise or other rewards may or may not be given for good behavior, depending on the trainer.

I have heard trainers state, "My dog knows when I am pleased with his work; I don't have to tell him." And with a well established canine/handler team that is a true statement.

Purists in the reward-based camp are the polar opposite choosing to ignore the actions of a dog that jumps, whines, or mouths its handler during a training session. Once the desired action is delivered by the dog, his reward is immediate. The theory is that when the dog figures out what makes the reward "appear," he will be quick to repeat the action.

The rewards used in training are varied. Examples include a verbal "good dog," offering a favorite toy, or a pat on the head. Some give a yummy treat, a click on a clicker box, or extra retrieval opportunities with balls, flying discs or bird training bumpers. In short, a reward is anything that motivates your dog to work for you.

As stated earlier, I have taken pages from both training books to use in my programs. I don't believe one system works for every dog anymore than one teaching philosophy reaches every classroom student.

My husband's gorgeous, purebred black Lab, Asia, was rescued a few years ago from a bankrupt kennel. She had no self-esteem; she could not bring herself to make or hold eye contact with us and had no concept of keeping a kennel or bedding clean. Had I ignored Asia and left her to figure out what I wanted, she would still be lying on filthy bedding in a corner, trying to stay hidden.

As Asia was very thin and motivated by hunger, I used food as a reward. I didn't use treats, but rather kept a small bag of extra kibble (her regular dog food) close at hand.

Whenever possible I had Asia with me in the kennel office or about the city pound building. Whenever she responded to my voice by looking at me, she received a few pieces of kibble. While petting her, I would stroke under her chin and jaw, gradually raising her head until we made eye contact; again, more kibble.

If she soiled herself or her bedding, she was not scolded. Rather I kept her with me as "we" cleaned up and took the soiled items outside to her "relief" area. Once Asia began to trust me and respond to my voice, I introduced more verbal and tactile praise and backed down on the food rewards.

Today Asia is still a quiet, rather submissive dog. She interacts well with our pack of six or so dogs and is very good with the new puppies that join us for training. Asia is sensitive to loud voices and certain sounds that elicit unpleasant memory associations from her past. A sharp verbal correction directed at another dog will still make Asia drop her head. She is however, a wonderfully clean house dog who loves to travel with us.

Let me give you another training example. Roscoe, like Asia, is a rescue case. Our best guess is that he is a Rottweiler/Malamute mix that matured to 100 plus pounds of muscle. He was found tied (and thoroughly tangled) in a clump of trees at the local animal hospital.

His owners had left him with his bucket of food, tie out cable and anchor. They never returned. Roscoe was approaching one year of age but was still boisterously puppy in behavior. He had jumped all over Officer Wayne as evidenced by the torn, muddy uniform.

Having recently read the "ignore the bad behavior theory" when Roscoe jumped on me, I chose to turn away just like the article touted. Roscoe's next jump onto my back sent me onto all fours.

In my 30-plus-year law enforcement career, any person who did that to me went to jail. Since Becker County has a "no dog as an inmate" policy, Roscoe and I had to work things out ourselves. Ignoring behavior was out and correcting behavior made a rapid comeback.

Two firm corrections and Roscoe looked at me as if to say "No one ever told me 'No' before." Using a combination of correction and praise, Roscoe and I became a great team. Despite his size, Roscoe, like Asia, is very gentle with the puppies and other training dogs that I bring home. He does his best to please and has a truly wonderful sense of devotion.

The lesson that both Asia and Roscoe taught me was to evaluate the temperament and learning curve of each individual animal. Once their needs were identified I could go about building a training program that elicited the desired results; rather than trying to follow a prewritten lesson plan.

Perhaps that sheds light on why my class sessions never seem to exactly follow the outline.

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