Cassie's Story: Why I train the way I do
We met through a card on the pet store bulletin board: “Free lab, needs big yard.”
When 9-month-old Cassie joined my life, her exuberant approach to life covered me with bruises. We forged a deep bond through games of fetch and long hikes together. I immediately started training her using the traditional methods I had learned as a child: pushing and guiding her into position. Once I thought she knew what to do, failures to perform were enforced by jerks on her choke collar.
I was surprised by what happened and what failed to happen. She did learn the basics of obedience, but it didn’t make her ballistic behaviors go away. She still lunged and jumped, but in an anxious way. What did go away was her joyfulness. She started to look sad and worried much of the time. Training wasn’t fun for either of us.
Then someone gave me a book about clicker training. We took a break from “real” obedience and just learned some tricks together. Cassie’s joy returned and in time we were able to re-learn heeling, stays and so much more. She performed even a seemingly boring behavior such as “go to your mat” with gusto [see it in action] Training the old way, she refused to take an object from my hand. Taught with the clicker, she would carry anything I gave her, and retrieve whatever I pointed to. Her favorite game was “find the keys.” She trained me to put my keys away as soon as I got home, because if I absent-mindedly set them down, she would fetch them! [see it in action]
I also found that reward based training is highly effective for breeds of dogs that previously were thought to be untrainable, and that cats excel at learning tasks and love it! [see my cat Mira getting on her "stay-station."]
A growing body of evidence shows that reward based training is more effective, better for your pet and better for your relationship compared to training that incorporates punishment. In particular, it is the approach recommended by veterinary behaviorists for pets with behavior issues such as aggression, anxiety or fearfulness [see the position statement by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists]. My joy is to share this way of training that enables our pets for enjoyable partnership.