Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dog Training

Beckett slept through the night. Not just without barking like before, but without whining. I have to admit I was flustered before Jo (an actual dog trainer and dog behaviorist, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, well actually she has a whole lot of other certifications as well, but I digress) gave me a little advice.

I have to admit there are times when I'm still doubtful. I don't know why, when I need plumbing work done I call a plumber (after I scouted out the Internet and library only to determine I lack the expertise to complete a do it yourself fix it job), why not use a (certified) positive (positive only) dog trainer/behaviorist? I was strangely reluctant. One of few reasons I can think of is that there are so many resources out there, books, television, the Internet. I should be able to figure it out. How many people actually need to see or talk to a dog trainer or behaviorist?

Then there are the resources themselves - which vary. Some say one thing, others say another, and some say things I'm pretty sure border on animal cruelty - but all believe they are in best interest of a dog (all are very convincing). There is such a wide range of ideas.

I remember the nicest guy telling me that a shock collar would solve all my problems. A shock collar?! Its a dog, at what point do you think the dog is going to understand that a electrical shock is because he didn't come when called and not because of the squirrel which he was chasing. Great - so now I have a dog who is afraid of squirrels. I'm still digressing. I also get distracted - and I don't even need a squirrel.

And so I happen to run into Jo. We talked a bit and Jo introduced me to the idea of clicker training. I was doubtful of both (the clicker training and getting professional help). The clicker training seemed to require so much stuff. Why use a clicker and treats, when I can just use treats? Don't get me wrong, I whole heartedly stood behind treats. But, on an average day, I'm already carrying a plethora of dog paraphernalia, leash, treats, bags for waste removal, what more did I need to lug around with me. Also, I didn't have a clicker and it seemed like an added expense (they are about 1$ but there was shipping to think of). And professional help? It wasn't like my dog was aggressive or problematic, he didn't really need professional help.

In hindsight, its like saying, I can read, why go to school; because the right school can open up new possibilities you didn't even know existed. The right trainer (using only positive methods) can not only work on issues before they even arise but just as importantly (if not more so) can create a bond between you and your dog that you didn't even know was possible. That's what training should (in my opinion) be. Its about communicating with your dog, learning to understand the dog while learning to teach the dog to understand to you.

I'm a scientist. In science, if you have hypothesis (in this case, clickers are unnecessary) you test it, you don't just go on a gut feeling. And so I reluctantly tried clicker training. I and my hypothesis were wrong.

The clicker was a catalyst. It didn't change the training, but made it faster. What used to take Beckett weeks to learn, now took a week. It was magic. If a trainer knew this what else did one have to give? The answer: a lot. Beckett isn't always the easiest dog, he hates transitions (ie moving), but ask anyone and they will tell you he A.) well behaved and B.) adores me. Its not a life long bond, I got Beckett only about a year ago. I want to say, "dogs simply love me." The truth is, it's been a learning experience one through which the bond between me and my dog has grown and clicker training was the first big step to that new and improved bond.

So when Beckett was struggling with my move, you might think previous experience might have taught me to pick up the phone, send out an email (anything really) and ask for some advice from someone more knowledgeable, but no... instead I went a week without sleep. And when advice came to me, I was still doubtful. Move the crate a little and play a CD for dogs (A CD for dogs?! I can't even make this stuff up) - I was already using the radio... what difference could it make. Still a good little scientist I am, I made the changes night A. we changed the crate played Mozart night B. played through a dog's ear. Night A. was better only a little whining. Night B.? Perfection. It could simply be the effect of a second night, but when sleep is involved, I'm choosing superstition over science and am not changing anything.


  1. I know this is an older post, but I wanted to add: yes, I thought clicker training was a crock of s@$*. We started when Hudson was 10 weeks old. I think we did it wrong for awhile, and still have trouble with the timing, but we tackle any behavior problem with that clicker in hand. I wonder what we'll learn next.

  2. I know this is older, but I wanted to say thank you for this post. My grey has been having trouble with barking at night so I tried the fan and some music and I had my first silent night in a long time. Hoping it continues!

    So, clicker training really ISN'T a crock of sh*t? Imight have to look into that.
    Thank you!