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All right, I’ve got Olivia’s song in my head, “Let’s Get Physical, Physical….”, it’s got such an upbeat, happy mood, and that’s how I think of training dogs, “Let’s Get Pawsitive, Pawsitive…” Training doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, a chore, a drag, unpleasant. Training can and should be fun, empowering, and pawsitive!

In the past dog trainers would use words like “dominate”, “obedience”, “command”, and “correct.” These all imply the need to overpower our dogs to show them who is boss. Punishment was standard – dog pulls on leash, jerk him to show him his place. Dog has accident in the house – hit him with a newspaper and throw him outside. Dog wants to visit friends across the street, give him a shock with an electronic collar. Thankfully, there now are more modern, effective and humane methods of teaching our dogs. Modern techniques are based on a more scientific understanding of how dogs learn, communication and relationship. Whereas trainers and owners used to “dominate”, now we “influence.” An “obedient” dog is now “well mannered”, a “command” is now a “cue”, and the idea of “correction” has been replaced with “demonstration.” We teach our dogs what we DO want and, in many cases, what we DON’T want takes care of itself. If a dog has learned to sit when greeting people, he will be conditioned not to jump on them. By teaching behaviors that are incompatible with ones we do not like, we are then able to focus on what we want from our dogs rather than what we don’t want.

Many people acquire dogs with Disney stories in their heads – Lassie, 101 Dalmatians, Lady & the Tramp, and expect their dog to be the perfect dog – the Disney dog. This is about as realistic as your husband being the dad in “Father Knows Best”, or your children as perfect and adorable as those in “Mary Poppins.” News flash – there is no perfect dog! They arrive in our homes making “deposits” everywhere, steal food off our plates, rip up furniture, throw themselves through screens and windows, bark at every shadow, dig up your garden, and shed all over your clothes. Doesn’t sound very appealing, when put that way. So, why get a dog? Because a well-mannered dog is not only a pleasure to have around, but will be there for you whenever you need an unconditional friend, who will be there to cuddle up with, and who will be there to walk those pounds off with. The key to acquiring this desired bundle of fur is relationship. The use of positive reinforcement (as opposed to traditional training methods) is paramount in the development of a relationship based upon trust, understanding and communication. A dog that listens because he fully trusts his “human” can be much more reliable than a dog that has been trained using force and punishment.

How does positive training work? In a nutshell - through management, play-training, reward, and most importantly, being the keeper of all good things in your dog’s life. Your dog should look to you as his life-source, not in a do or die scenario, but in a sense of “if I do this thing of keeping my paws on the floor instead of jumping all over him because I’m so glad he’s home, then he’ll give me a treat, then a walk, then a hug, then dinner, then we’ll play, then we’ll just hang out on the sofa together because we love each other.” Your dog will learn that he will get what he wants from you (a treat), when he gives you what you want from him (no jumping). You become your dog’s VIP – Very Important Person.

Positive training can be done in everyday situations – it does not need to be only through formal training sessions. Your dog learns to sit on cue, you reward him. Now, use it when he wants something from you – to go outside, to gain a treat, to say hello. Play games with your dog – you hide and he has to find you; this teaches his to come when you call and keeps his attention on you. There are many ways of training your dog to become a loving member of your family. You will earn his love and respect, and he will earn yours, in return.

Tip of the Week: Your dog’s name should only be used in connection with good things, never call his name to correct him. If you call, “Fifi, get over here, you bad dog! See what you did to the carpet?” Why would Fifi come to you? “Fifi” will come to mean – “uh, oh, trouble’s coming, I’m ‘outta here…” Use your dog’s name only in a positive way, and Fifi will learn to come to you, especially if she knows she will get a reward in doing so.

Article submitted by Simi Zuckerman

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