Charlotte Peltz Living with Your Dog "Crossovers!!" brought to you by Joy Beckner Artist/ Bronze Sculptor

Living with Your Dog


By Charlotte Peltz

Trainers and dogs whose initial experiences are based on correction (read punitive) type training, and then switch to motivational training, are referred to as "crossovers" by people in the field. That includes people who have been using rewards in their teaching programs but continue to give leash "corrections."

Change is not easy! What is familiar is comfortable and one slips back into old habits ever so much more easily than one walks that new path into an unknown. So, it is no surprise that changing from training dogs with choke chain and prong collars to let them know what they did wrong to encouraging dogs to present desirable behavior is filled with frustrations for many.

When I use the words "motivational training" I do not simply mean giving out treats for a job well done. That is certainly a step in the right direction and more trainers (here and everywhere!) would do less harm if that is the only change they made in their methods but it isn't enough.

What really makes a difference is discovering how animals learn. Not just dogs all animals. Haven't we all heard that one cannot train cats? Well -- I gotta tell you that it simply isn't true. What is true, however, is that cats will not learn from a punishment program of approach! The video, Clicker Magic with Karen Pryor, shows examples of the use of "clickers" as an aid in motivational training methods that get a cat to perform a complete mini-agility* course. Amazing! And -- all done with an understanding of animal behavior, use of motivational teaching methods (operant conditioning), a clicker and lots and lots of treats. This same video also shows teaching a mule to overcome fear [when] entering a washing area, and a fish to respond to a light flash (instead of a clicker) and more. What fun!!!

While I cannot address the issue of why it is so difficult to make a change, I can assure you that doing so can be frustrating. For example, dogs trained with the "old" method learned to not do things. They never learned what TO do -- except by default. So -- along comes this new system, folks, and now we want Twinkletoes to become investigative, use his brain, be inventive. Hmmmmm. We offer a great new opportunity to investigate something (anything!) and guess what? Twinkletoes sits there looking to us for a clue what to do! That is the upside of the picture, sad to say. No way is Twinkletoes about to make a move because it has resulted in a strong, pinching, painful squeeze on his neck. Says he: "Best to sit this one out, folks. If it's important I'll get the message -- from the leash and collar around my neck!"

And, his person at the end of the leash (unless otherwise well prepared) is thinking (if not saying!) "Well -- dummy -- there 'it' is! Go for it!!!!!

The wonderful thing about motivational training is that the risk of doing any harm is almost nil. The worst that can happen is that poor timing causes delays in achieving the outcome. By that I mean -- should the handler not reward the desired behavior, the dog gets an extra treat compared to poor timing with punishment-oriented training where the dog gets a leash correction (or worse) and hasn't a clue why, so it "shuts down." We see that all the time when we see dogs who slink up to their owners or slowly, if at all, respond to "known" commands. Those same owners, of course, say: "See!!!! He knows he is wrong! Just look at him!"

Crossovers have a job set out for them. The good news is that it is so much fun to see the dogs use their wonderful brains that, if you have an open mind, you can do it!

* Agility is a form of training and competition where dogs (Who knows! One day we may see cats!) race around a course of obstacles at the direction of their handlers.

"One can measure the size and moral progress of a nation to how she treats her animals." Mahatma Gandhi.

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