Saturday, June 17, 2017

#2017 Train4Rewards Blog Party

One of my favorite education websites, a major source of insights and thought-provoking articles on dogs (well, I focus mainly on the dog stuff), is Companion Animal Psychology. They have this fantastic blog party event June 16th to celebrate the joys of training your dogs with treats and clickers and all things good, and I thought it would be great to join in and celebrate how much positive reinforcement and happy training methods have helped Sherlock to calm down and become the beautiful dog he now is. Although I'm a bit late, I am so grateful to the community for sharing the knowledge and training tips freely so that I can apply it as best I can here with my setters in Japan, even though my regular dog trainer and doggie sitter Dodo-sensei has passed on across the rainbow bridge.

Sherlock had been browbeaten into submission by choking, rattling of jars, spraying of citronella, shocking and beatings...when he came to our home a year ago after rescue and a month in the pound, he hugged the ground to avoid being kicked in soft underparts, his tail beating frantically against his belly to signal appeasement, and his mind racing in fear at the slightest noise or movement, so that he either barked and leaped, mad and frantic, or heeled in soulless dull compliance. He was plagued by fleas, itchy skin and matted fur, not to mention a wounded foot and the incipient heartworm-no wonder even now he still flinches at being stroked around the hindquarters, cowers down at an inadvertent hand movement.
All the joys of being with a setter, the wise alert decision-making, the gauging of scents and wind and seasons, the architectural mapping of animal tracks and lairs...the benign gaze as they laze on the couch, the regal poise, the supple equilibrium...all were lost, as wee Sherlock frowned, confused, panicked and hunched up, yet still so eager to please.
Photo by Yakobu Miyajima
And so began our journey together, as I massaged his neck, his ears, around the eyes, and gently eased the skull bones apart so his brain wasn't all squeezed in. We tried tryptophan supplements and chamomile/ frankincense essential oils together with salmon oil...there was the heartworm to be dealt with, and he needed to fatten up, the wee bag of skin and bones. Using treats to train him made perfect sense: scavenging was how he had survived, and now I needed him to think for himself from a safe space of food galore. It seems hyper dogs also need the treats to feed the brain so it can function. 
What was really exciting and uplifting was the way a clicker followed by treats really worked, so that he could begin to understand exactly what was required (simple things like sit, wait, shush) and be rewarded. Thankfully over this past year as my clicker broke down with the constant use, the whole daily routine has become a place of safety and embrace, and he has so much more confidence. Knowing when it's okay to chill, that it's okay to say no if you don't want to be brushed or share the couch, that we wait for each other to peewees or sniff or chat on walkies and choose the paths depending on who has the strongest desire, either to hunt more cats or head for home, that a poopies does not mean an instant u-turn back, that life is good! 
Click here for more blogs celebrating positive training
That he can sit with head held high, saliva dripping from his mouth as he waits with such ardent appeal, has power to summon delicious bowls of home-cooked soup and kibble: the nourishment of training with rewards is not just in the belly, but in the mind. The space is about communication and understanding, confidence and sharing, really discovering and knowing your dog, and him knowing and trusting you! Wouldn't do it any other way! 
Photo by Lelantos

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