We took our dog to training classes: Here's how it's going (Week 1)

By Meaghan St Pierre - Producer
Meaghan St. Pierre is a Senior Special Projects Producer at Local 4. She is blogging about her experience with taking her dog to training classes. Here's her previous blog post. 

Driving up to the Humane Society of Huron Valley I realize my moment of truth is here.  With Liam and Archer in the back seat, we park and get ready for our first training class together. 

We’ve practiced using the clicker the correct way, packed our treats and a frozen Kong for the class and are ready to see what all three of us can learn. 

I’m excited and nervous. Can I be taught how to encourage my dog’s good behavior instead of focusing on the bad ones? 

Notice I said can I be taught?  I believe we influence our pet’s behavior and it is unfair to put all the blame on the dog for misbehavior. We walk into the class and pick a designated corner for our training.  Each dog has its own space based on his or her needs.  

Our trainers, Angela Schmorrow and Lowell Zuckerman of Harmony Dog Training are very accommodating, meeting each dog where they are in their training.  They want us and our dogs to be safe and successful. I really do love the positive encouragement. 

They show us how to reward our dog for good behavior, any good behavior. We should click the clicker and then follow up with a treat. Every time Archer hears the clicker sound, he should know a treat is coming and he is being rewarded.  The trick is to use the clicker right after you see the good behavior.  

He sits still, he gets a treat.  He lies quietly on the floor, he gets a treat.  So far so good. 

Harmony Dog Training’s philosophy for training is simple and easy to follow: “Reward the behavior you would like.  Prevent reinforcement for behaviors you do not like.  Allow your dog to choose to be right.” 
Basically when he makes the right decision, he gets rewarded, when he makes a wrong decision he does not.  

We started working on training our dogs to “Watch.”  The goal eventually is to get Archer’s focus with a single word, Watch.  “You can distract him from enticing trash in the street, for example, or keep his eyes on you when walking past another dog. Plus, dogs that are rewarded for paying attention do it more. And attentive dogs are easier to train.”

Archer gets a treat every time he looks at me. I’m not quite sure we got this during the class. He looked toward me but not up at my face.  This is something we’re going to have to continue doing at home. 

The training is fun.  I’m having a good time.  My dog is behaving. Occasionally Archer tries to wander over to a nearby dog, but returns when I gently pull on his leash.  The Kong filled with frozen treats does a great job of distracting him when it’s our turn to watch and listen to the trainers explain the next exercise. 

Next up is the “It’s Your Choice” game to teach Archer he will be rewarded when he makes good decisions.  It also helps with impulse control 

I put treats in my hand and close it, then let Archer sniff so he knows the treats are there.  He does and then proceeds to lick my hand vigorously to try and get me to open it and give him the treats.  I’ve never let him lick me like this before.  It takes a bit to get used to the feeling.  Yuck. 

When he backs away I open my hand so he can see the treats.  When he goes for them, I quickly close my hand again.  We repeat this until he stops going for the treats with my hand open.  The moment he does this I reward him with one of the treats.   

I’m shocked at how quickly he figures this out.  I think we might actually be getting this! 

I ask Liam if he would like to try doing it, but he says he just wants to watch.  I don’t think he loved the idea of getting his hand licked after watching Archer doing it to me. 

The game continues, only now we’re putting a pile of treats on the floor.  Same idea, if he goes for the treats, we cover them with our hand.  As soon as he stops he gets rewarded. He gets this too!  

Hooray!!  I have a dog that can be trained!!! 

Then we get a homework assignment: See if we can spell Archer’s name in treats on the floor without him going for them. What??  His whole name?   I love a challenge.  We’re going to give it a try. 

During the class, the trainers walk around the room taking turns approaching different dogs.  If the dog stays on all fours and demonstrates other good behavior, they get a treat, if they do not; the trainer walks away or turns away from the dog.  Notice there is no negative reinforcement of behaviors.  I’m learning even saying “No” when Archer does something wrong is giving him attention and could be inadvertently reinforcing the bad behavior.    

This is the start of teaching Archer to be a polite greeter.  Thank goodness, I might actually feel good when people come to the door again.

We are also told to practice this at home.  They explain it as off and on.  If the dog jumps on us, we are to turn our backs to him and go into the “off” position. When he stops we can turn and face him, but if he starts jumping, turn away again.   Being in the “on” position means we’re reinforcing good behavior.

Our training classes are always followed up with an email with handy YouTube videos showing us the training and handouts that explain each one.  This is super helpful.  I have Liam read out loud the anti-jumping handout to remind all of us to turn off and on when Archer starts jumping on us.  Archer still wants to jump, especially on Liam. 

The class was Saturday morning and we had family visiting that afternoon.  Archer went crazy jumping on them when they arrived.  Clearly we need to practice our “off” and “on” stances. 

And we have.   I notice when we get home, Archer is no longer jumping on Liam.  He is excited to see him, but is keeping his paws on the floor.  Archer has often been so excited around Liam that he nips at him like Liam is another puppy and Liam ends up in tears.   The dog means no harm we just need to do a better job teaching him not to act that way. 
While it’s just one class and I don’t want to set expectations too high for us, I think it’s been a good week since I’m pretty sure Archer has yet to nip or jump on Liam since our last class. 

As for our other homework, we have been working on spelling Archer’s name in treats on the floor.   He did it briefly Monday night, again Wednesday night and Friday morning!  There have been a few fails … one time Archer went for the treats just as I spelled “A,” and another time I had his name spelled out only to have him reach over with his paw and scatter them around. And Friday morning he eventually went for the treats spelling out his name.   

As we get ready for our next class, I have a recurring struggle I want to talk to Angela and Lowell about in hopes of resolving.  Archer refuses to walk in the morning.  Literally refuses. Paws on the ground, standing firm, he just won’t take a walk with me.  What is he trying to tell me? How can I get him moving so we can enjoy these lovely Michigan summer mornings?  Stay tuned!
 

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