Life Goes On, Musings in LA
So here it is October 17 and I haven’t blogged since June, and so many of my submissions were photos… lazy me!
I am vacationing in Los Angeles, visiting my daughter Dafna who, in addition to being an incredible person, is an amazing acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist. I’ve been here one week, which means one week without dogs. Considering that I’ve lived my past 40-some years in the company of canines, dozens of them, this is quite a phenomenon. Dafna tells her friends that she had so many dogs growing up that she never needs another. What did I do? The poor child had to spend her life competing not with brothers and sisters but with four-legged critters. For a while she participated in the sport, training her own dog in obedience, but frankly it’s tough for a girl child of 10-13 years to handle a 140-pound Saint Bernard. She did as well as she could, but it became obvious that her heart wasn’t in it. Too bad we didn’t have a reasonable breed and that agility wasn’t a competition event at that time here in the U.S. Things might have turned out differently.
It’s also too bad that we hadn’t progressed in our training methods to where we are today. Those were the days when it was important to be a “dominant” trainer, to be able to deliver a sharp, noticeable pop or jerk with a leash; to be tall enough that your angle from leash hand to the dog’s neck was adequate to actually stop a dog that outweighed you. The handler basically had to be annoying enough to the dog that the dog would change its behavior so the handler would stop doing what she was doing. This was difficult enough physically for this little slip of a girl; being consistently tough and commanding was the other part of the equation. Thus it was hard for this kid to get the positive reinforcement she needed to continue training. She enjoyed the dogs, but they were definitely my thing. And they continue to be my thing.
Somewhere around 1994, as a member of Dulles Gateway Obedience Training Club, an instructor named Corally Burmaster was starting to share her new discovery: clicker training! She’d had wonderful success using the method with her Airedales and was generous with her time in teaching this method to anyone who was interested.
This training method changed my life in many ways. Since then I’ve trained all my dogs with clicker training (better described as training with a conditioned reinforcer) and have shared the method with many of my own students. One of the very lovely things about this method is that anyone can use it to train their dogs – a very small person can train a very big dog (or horse, or dolphin, or elephant – pick an animal, any animal, even a human!). Yes, it takes a basic knowledge of how it works, and yes, it takes consistent positive interaction with the animal. How hard can that be? You can check out our tutorial, Clicker Basics, and then, for a fun thing to do and to hone your new skills, try Shaping a Behavior, at Mountain View Dog Training.
I have much sight-seeing to do before I return to reality – and my dogs – in Virginia.