Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Training the Trainer

          Any Obedience instructor worth his bait bag will tell you that it's easy to train dogs. Dogs are smart. Even the "dumb" ones. The hard part is training the trainers.
          Oh my is that true. I've been battling certain behaviors of Casey's from the moment K brought her home. Charming and lovable, she is also an exceptionally manic dog, and especially when she was a puppy, she surged from one naughty behavior to the next so quickly that it was impossible to intercept and redirect those behaviors; by the time I'd reacted to one, she was three ahead of me.

Casey in one of her quiet moments. Quiet, but not un-naughty.
She's not actually allowed on the couch.

          Age has mellowed her ever so slightly, but she's still a crazy barker and a lead-puller who never seems to calm down, and I had despaired of finding a successful way to control or at the very least take the edge off those behaviors. Not that I hadn't tried. The amount of our bookshelf space devoted to dog-training books has quadrupled since we got her. I read the books; I try the suggestions, but I just can't seem to get her to focus on anything but squirrels. And bait. She likes bait.
          And then I was looking at the J and J Dog Supplies catalog and noticed a book called Understanding and Teaching Self Control, by Suzanne Clothier. It was $4.85, and I had to order a new leash from them anyway, so I added the book to the order.
          Changed. My. Life. Clothier's premise is that some dogs don't know how to control themselves, and she has a very simple, effective way to teach self-control. You learn how to do it in basic Obedience class, and this is just a targeted application.
          I tried it the afternoon I got the book and by evening, Casey had gone from whirling, barking dervish to astonishingly well-controlled dog who would give a warning bark when she saw passers-by, and then come to get me. Calmly. She knew exactly what to do, once I knew what to tell her to do, and she seemed relieved to be able to do it*.
          I also tried it with Pooka, because I finally realized that his guardy behavior was one of the triggers for her excess, and that he needed a dose of self-control, too.
          Best $4.85 I ever spent. It turns out that training the trainer—even a dumb one—is pretty cheap. And very effective.

*Yes, it really is that simple. And no, I'm not going to tell you what it is. Support the trainer who figured it out—buy the book.

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