New Dogs, New Tricks
PUPPY OBEDIENCE CLASSES AT KENNEL CLUB ARE ALL ABOUT POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT.
Puppy obedience class isn’t about teaching dogs. It’s about teaching
Casey Roy of Sunnyslope called her Chihuahua-Cocker Spaniel mix, “Oliver, come!” Oliver’s 4-month-old legs bounded playfully and his ears flapped happily as he passed by three other dogs to get a treat from Roy’s
“That’s great! Throw a party when your dog comes to you!” said Eileen Pearl, a dog trainer for more than 20 years at Wenatchee Kennel Club. “They always have a choice. How do you make them want to come to you?
The answer is reward, and that can be anything that the dog wants right
Positive reinforcement rules at Wenatchee Kennel Club’s warehouse training center in East Wenatchee. Six days a week, more than 20 instructors teach about 100 owners and their dogs. The page-long list of classes includes therapy dog seminars and competition-level agility.
Over the course of seven weeks, Oliver and his three classmates learned how to come when called, walk on a leash without pulling, sit as a default position and stay close to their owners.
“I learned that it’s 90 percent me, and 10 percent the dog,” Roy said. “I think a lot of people think telling the dog, ‘No,’ is the way to do it. Dogs respond better to love and positive reinforcement when they do well. That was something new to me. It’s so simple.”
Pearl’s training style is a mix of compassion and canine brain science.
“A dog’s brain is fully-formed and capable of learning at 49 days old,”Pearl said. “On the 49th day is the best time to start training the dog. Unfortunately, most people wait until the dogs have problems and they can’t
stand it anymore. Then they think about taking a class.”
It takes more than just class time for dogs to learn new skills, Pearl said. That’s where human training comes in. Dogs’ brains are wired to associate learning with environment. Dogs can learn “sit,” and “come,” in class, but when they get home, they might not know what those words mean.
“People know that a word like ‘sit’ has the same meaning regardless of
who says it, how they said it, where they were, or what they were doing at
the time,” Pearl said. “Dogs can’t figure that out, at least not easily. When you teach your dog something, you have to practice it in a lot of different locations and situations.”
In addition to the classes, Anthony Grande of Wenatchee takes Huan — an English Setter-Saint Bernard mix — out for a walk everyday to practice. Even if they have to skip the walk due to rain or work, Grande finds a way to work in teachable moments around the house.
“I’m constantly trying to find something to reward her for,” he said. “I can always find her doing something wrong, and if it looks like she might get into trouble, I try to give her something else to do that’s a positive thing.”
Latifa Coley, a professional horse trainer from Waterville, saw some similarities when she arrived with her Australian Shepherd puppy, Waylon.
“I felt like a certain level of confidence training him,” she said. “I wanted to have more socializing experience for him with other dogs, and to be able to practice and behave with other dogs around.”
Coley learned some new tricks, too. She taught Waylon how to walk on a leash without pulling by putting a treat on a plate at the far end of the room. Each time Waylon pulled, she stopped or she would walk in the other direction. She taught him to heel by walking along the wall, which gave Waylon a barrier to follow. Then, they graduated to small safety cones set in
a serpentine pattern.
“She (Pearl) had some great techniques that would never have occurred to me,” Coley said. “It was a good reminder that there are lots of different roads to roam, and to keep looking for different, creative ways of training.”
Five behavior tips for your dog
1. Offer a treat for every good behavior — whether the dog does it intentionally or not — to create a positive association with learning. A reward can be as simple as a pebble of dog food or a pet on
2. Teach the dog the same skill in different environments throughout the day to help the dog learn a command universally.
3. Add distractions gradually. Learning “sit” in a quiet home is preschool; learning “sit” in a busy dog park is PhD-level.
4. Use consistent command words. Dogs may not understand the difference between “down” and “get down.”
5. Take a deep breath and choose kindness. Dogs come into the world knowing how to be dogs — barking, jumping, digging. Learning how to live with humans is a process. Find a class if you need more training tools.
Article by Rachel Hansen, Foothills Magazine