Friday, November 18, 2011

Training a puppy

We began training Newton by reading the book Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson and enrolling ourselves in a puppy class that uses positive reinforcement for training.

Attitudes and techniques have changed so much since we trained Schwartz, our first dog, forty years ago. Schwartz learned well, but wore a choke chain all the time. Twenty years later, a choke chain wasn’t enough to catch the attention of Strider, our independent and enthusiastic Bouvier. We used a pinch collar on him. He wore it day and night for eleven years. I threw it away the day he died.

We are training Newton with a harness and a handful of cheese, using techniques originally developed by dolphin trainers. It is so much more fun, both for the dog and for us, to be rewarding positives with happy voices and food, rather than jerks and speaking forcefully to correct negatives. Newton has learned to “sit” and “lie down”, to “watch” us and “touch” our hand, to hand signals. We’re looking forward to “come” and “stay”. Some day in the future we hope to teach him “go out” and “come by,” the phrases necessary to herding the sheep.

But whether or not Newton becomes the sheep dog he was supposed to be, he has helped us learn more about positive reinforcement and training. “Yes! Good dog!” we say to Newton when he touches our outstretched hand with his nose. “Yes!” I say to Dave when he offers to stop at the grocery store on his way home from the lumber yard. “Yes! Good husband.” I think to myself.

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