National Train Your Dog Month

January 11, 2011 at 9:28 am 8 comments

I have been doing some research on important doggie-related dates for my next Boogie calendar and January 2011 is National Train Your Dog Month!

“Dog Training” is such a loaded and contested topic, and as the parent of a reactive/aggressive Boston terrier I probably spend more time reading and thinking about this subject than the average human being. I am also blogging about it, creating drawings about it, and biting my tongue (to avoid opening up a can of worms) whenever someone quotes Cesar-isms at me…

If only I had a dollar for every time  someone told me Boogie needs Cesar Millan or sees himself as my pack leader… (when I tell them that “Boogie is in training”)

Most people don’t realize that there is HUGE WORLD of dog training information out there and that The Dog Whisperer approach even though it has taken on a national cult following, is actually very old-school and limited.

Two interesting articles:

1. – Good Dog, Bad Dog.

Read the comments too. The general gist of this article is that regardless of whether we use “Dog Whispering” (corrections, Dominance Theory) or “Click & Treat” (Positive Reinforcement), all methods work to get rid of bad behavior and lead to good behavior. According to this author, training philosophies are like trends, everchanging, and there is no one right or wrong method.  This pic is from the article:

Then there is THIS article that I am more inclined to agree with –

2. K9 In Focus: A Consideration of Training Methods

The most interesting part –  the danger of using a Balanced Approach (mixing corrections with positive reinforcement) which only confuses the dog because one method is teaching the dog not to do anything unless given a command to do so (so the dog remains “calm submissive”, to use Dog Whisperer lingo). The other method teaches a dog to try new behaviors to earn rewards (so you get a more active, thinking dog that is always testing you and talking to you).

” One thing I have learned is that it is very important to carefully consider your training methods and techniques. In addition to being effective, will they strengthen the relationship between you and your dog? Are they consistent with your ethics and ideals? Are they clear and fair? It is our responsibility, as trainers and owners, to do what is best for our pets. I encourage you to think very carefully about how you train.”

My personal view: Corrections Training vs. Clicker Training

I have experienced both methods – the traditional corrections-based method, and also the positive reinforcement click-n-treat method.

A year ago I was taught to use traditional punishment-based techniques on Boogie. My blog entries around May 2010 went into a lot of detail and included video clips and cartoon illustrations showing the use of a prong collar. At the time I didn’t realize that there existed other non aversive training techniques. This was all I knew and like most people, I watched The Dog Whisperer show religiously and tried to be dominant, calm and assertive. I was even contacted by the Dog Whisperer show to submit a video which I  am glad I didn’t do. (see YouTube:  Setting up the dog for anxiety and aggression on The Dog Whisperer Show)

Several months later, when Boogie’s behavioral problems persisted, I made the switch over to Positive Reinforcement techniques and Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) and stopped using corrections.  Lots of blog entries here on these training sessions.

For me personally, the most interesting major difference between the two training approaches is not whether one approach works better than the other, but how they have impacted on  Boogie’s overall PERSONALITY and  MOOD.

Back when I was using collar corrections (to stop him pulling on the leash or lunging at people/dogs) Boogie responded by stopping whatever he was doing and staying by my side. He learned very quickly that he would be choked if he “misbehaved”. When the collar-corrections didn’t make him cry out or cower,  I saw a slower, more compliant and subdued Boogie (with a very red scabby neck). Friends noticed that he was less likely to greet people and seemed depressed. When I took the prong collar off, he would spring back to life and play with his toys and pull on the leash again which led me to realize that he was being “good” only to avoid punishment. He was still aggressively lunging at strange people and dogs on the street.

When I stopped using the prong collar and switched over to using a clicker and treats, I noticed a totally different Boogie who was attentive, full of life, enthusiastic, and responsive. I saw a dog that kept checking in with me, and came to me when called. Sure enough, the food in my pocket was more interesting than ME,  but using rewards made training so much easier and fun. Boogie was the same dog with the same behavioral issues and his hairs still stood up whenever he saw a stranger on our street (and he still thought about lunging at them) but after repeated training sessions, Boogie was able to IGNORE the trigger on his own or when I called him.  He is still nervous around certain people and dogs but we know how to avoid stressful situations.

The amazing change in Boogie’s personality and mood is what made me a Clicker training/Positive Reinforcement convert. I wouldn’t say that Boogie’s issues are 100% fixed but we now have  a much stronger relationship. I know how to read him, and he listens to me. There really is no need at all for corrections or punishment and it makes me sad when I see other people using the choke method or yelling at and kicking their dogs. The wonders of Clicker Training is hard to explain to someone who subscribes to the Dominance approach…

Heck, I don’t want a calm-submissive Boogie. I’d rather have a happy Boogie with good social skills.

There’s a new dog training book coming out soon – BATting 1000 by Grisha Stewart which I am very excited about and  not only because I will have the pleasure of providing illustrations,  but because Boogie and I have been using her techniques (with our trainer Sarah) and they WORK! * Read our success stories on Boogie’s Walk Log.

Click on “Training > BAT Sessions” in my Categories list to see my blog posts related to BAT. Also check out Grisha Stewart’s Organic Socialization DVD on BAT.

More important dates for the January —

Did you know that January 14th is National Dress Up Your Pet Day?

And January 21st is National Squirrel Appreciation Day. I think Boogie will like this one.

Entry filed under: Articles, links, Books & DVDs, Reads, Training.

Boogie’s best Xmas ever A Boogie Valentine

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. calmassertive  |  January 11, 2011 at 11:42 am

    If your dog is as well-behaved as you claim then why are so many people telling you otherwise? Could you be in denial?

    • 2. lili  |  January 11, 2011 at 6:02 pm

      I never claimed that my dog is so well-behaved (which is why he is in training) and there isn’t anybody telling me otherwise. For me training is a day-to-day thing… it’s something I am conscious of all the time that I am with Boogie. So – NO, I am definitely not in denial!

  • 3. Mallory  |  January 12, 2011 at 2:21 am

    Its a really interesting comparison – my boyfriend and I have been fans of The Dog Whisperer for awhile now, but we’ve also (luckily) inherited a dog who was already pretty well-behaved and calm to begin with. (She’s a lab mix, and was a street dog before a friend of my mom’s found her and took care of her until we got her.) I sort of dread the day when we get another dog one day and have to start from scratch with training.

    Also, I just have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Boston with the one blue eye like your Boogie has! Too cute!

    • 4. lili  |  January 12, 2011 at 10:01 am

      Mallory – I know what you mean. The thing is – when you adopt a dog you never really know what that dog is like, not immediately…

      Boogie was totally friendly in the first few weeks after we adopted him. We were told that he had a bite history by the rescue/shelter but we didn’t believe this because Boogie was so PERFECTLY well-behaved and sweet towards every person and dog that he met. Over time the problems emerged.

      The way I see it is that adopting a dog is like entering into a new relationship or dating someone new. At first you fall in love and everything is wonderful and as you get to know the person you get to know their ISSUES (nobody is perfect) and then the relationship becomes deeper and more complicated but it doesn’t stop you from loving them and wanting to work things out.

      I used to be a fan of The Dog Whisperer… I was obsessive. But then I learned about other dog training philosophies and methods and now I no longer agree with a lot of the Dog Whisperer stuff. That “authoritarian” style owner-dog relationship model isn’t right for us.

      • 5. Mallory  |  January 12, 2011 at 3:47 pm

        Well, and dogs, just like people, can have changes in personality over time for whatever reason. And yes, I agree – I think the fact that dogs, like people, DO all have different personalities means that there can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution to training. I’m glad to hear that you’re finding a solution that seems to be working for you and Boogie!

  • 6. According to Gus  |  January 12, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    I’m glad clicker training is working out so well for you. It’s something we’re interested in trying. Gus definitely does not respond well to a dominant approach and I agree with you, a calm-submissive Gus wouldn’t be near as fun as a happy Gus!

  • 7. Andre  |  January 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Keep on working with Boogie. Using the methods you are using will change what is in Boogie’s heart. Once you have changed what the dog feels, the bad behavior melts away.

    Using slip leads (like Cesar) or prong collars will never change what is in a dog’s heart. You end up with a dog that obeys only when the threat of punishment remains.

    One day you will be able to get rid of treats. Had you continued with the prong collar, you would never be able to get rid of it.

    Good luck and don’t let the uninformed bring you down!

    • 8. lili  |  February 7, 2011 at 8:01 pm

      Thanks, Andre. I like the way you put it. I could definitely see and feel the difference in Boogie’s heart when I made the switch from corrections training to positive reinforcement training. What’s more, *I* feel so much better as a doggie parent and l just love my little dog more and more each day.


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