Friday, October 3, 2008

Positive Reinforcement

An important part of training is reinforcement. The old saying about a dog wanting to please his master... well, in my opinion, when the master is pleased, good stuff happens to the dog, and in the end the dog is ultimately pleased. Some breeds, by design, are built for following directions better than others and are easier to reinforce, but in the end I think dogs probably want to do what works for them.

When you compete with a dog, nothing is more enjoyable than having a canine partner that loves to work and joyfully responds to your requests. I used to ride horses and I never got the impression that any of my horses were glad I climbed aboard. They weren't excited about getting onto a horse trailer and heading to a local horse show. Horses will often pine for each other, but not so much for a person. I know there are exceptions to every rule. (I did actually know a horse who loved to go places in his trailer and his mom had to keep it out of sight if she was trailering another horse and leaving him behind.) But my greyhounds love to hop in the van and head for a new place, choose me over other dogs, and enjoy their jobs. I love that.

My first greyhound, Jessie, had to endure all of my bad training. At the time, I did not know about clicker training and so I took Jes to a compulsive, choke chain training class. I rewarded with food, but training was forced and mistakes were corrected. Jes was sensitive and submissive. She hated training. When we would go outside to practice, she would head back for the house like a barn sour horse. It saddened me. Training was suppose to be something we did together.... for fun and it wasn't. And then I discovered clicker training. I purchased a little Karen Pryor booklet and the first thing I did was to teach Jes to touch a cup with her nose. She loved it! Finally she was being allowed to think and to offer behaviors without the fear of making a mistake. Mistakes were ignore. Correct actions were marked with a click and rewarded with a treat. Training was fun!

When training dogs, think about the environment you work best in. Two years ago, I left a company with a horrible boss. He had a bad temper and would yell at me in front of the whole office. I was held accountable for things that were simply out of my hands. I was under paid and unappreciated. I was paranoid about making a mistake and feared the consequences. The stress affected my health. By the time I left, I was literally sick to my stomach with fear and nerves day and night.

For the last 2 years, I have worked for the most fantastic small company. The partners are super nice, fair, reasonable, and provide lots of positive reinforcement. They don't get bent out of shape over a mistake. I feel appreciated. The pay and the raises have been good. I could not have dreamed of a better situation. They understand that keeping me happy is in their best interest and in the end we all benefit. I want my greyhounds to feel the same way about their jobs.