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October 31, 2013: Arf

Will wonders ever cease? Ever since I can remember (and my long term memory is quite good), I have wanted to own a border collie and to attend dog training classes with this dog. Rainbow wasn’t up for being trained. And Jenna has always been happy just being Jenna. So the opportunity never presented itself.

We acquired Ryder, a border collie this past summer. And shortly thereafter—in fact when we were on the road—I contacted Claudia Sihler who owns Better Pet Companions in Wasilla. Over the phone, I signed up for the foundation class. It’s for dogs like Ryder who are no longer puppies but have not had any formal training.

Tonight we took Ryder to the first of six sessions. I was really pleased, in part because Claudia’s methodologies complement what I believe to be true about dog training – the most important

being that positive reinforcement training is more effective than other, more negative forms of training. Actually, the reliance upon dominance-based techniques makes my blood run cold.

The Regine Dog Training facility consists of an outdoor area, and as well, an airport hangar type structure. The interior was bright and cheerful. There were wood 2 x 4s on the white walls. And ribbons and certificates were attached to the wood. There was rubber mat flooring, with painted lines on it. Everything, including the front waiting area was extremely well organized.

The eight of us attendees took places by the walls, where we clipped our dogs to lines connected to posts. Claudia had chairs by the walls as well fold out metal cloth covered panels so that the nervous dogs might be more relaxed. The dogs quickly settled down, making it easier to hear Claudia, who has a German accent and talks with great enthusiasm in a rapid-fire fashion.

She introduced herself and told provided us with background information about herself and her dogs. THEN she had us introduce one another to the rest of the class. I was impressed because the only other trainer that I know who does this is TTeam Instructor Robin Hood. It’s important since this gives one the sense that they’re not being talked down to.

I began to relax when I realized that I didn’t need to catch Claudia’s every word. This was because she also relied heavily on the use of demonstration. What she subsequently demonstrated – the use of the clicker in combination with hand targeting – made absolute sense to me. However, I’d never before thought of using the hand as a target. Very cool.

Claudia did talk about the connections between the sound of the clicker and the sounds that dogs respond to, like (as Pete said) the rattle of the dog food trash can lid. Huh. I’d never before thought about this.

We were also shown how to quiet the dog (the proper way). The first (preferred way) is to treat excessively in order to focus the dog’s attention on you, the trainer. The other method is called the Zen Muzzle. You take your dog by the collar with one hand, and with your other hand gently turn the muzzle towards you onto your lap. Claudia added that the dog will be more calm if we remain calm ourselves.

Claudia then did something really remarkable. She asked all us a few questions about dog stimuli – and reinforced us each with treats from a plastic Halloween bucket. I probably was not alone in that I found myself even more eager to please when I knew a treat was coming. I actually became more alert and more expectant, just like Ryder.

The hour class went by altogether too quickly. After, Pete struck up a conversation with a fellow named Frosty who had a few good chainsaw stories. So I got to watch the second, more advanced class. This group was working on using the clicker to shape certain behaviors, in this case jump through a hoop, rolling over, and retrieving. What I noticed was that Claudia was teaching the students how to shape behaviors by having them chunk down the various activities.

Click, reward, click reward, click reward – Claudia repeatedly said to us all that you have to move fast. No shape, no click, no reward. Dog makes a gesture that is in accordance of what you want it to do, and you reward it.

I left feeling very excited about future classes. I am already looking forward to next week.

Next: 219: 11/1/13: The Teaching-Writing Life