Treats and Training...and Getting to Know Your Dog

The pendulum has certainly changed from when I started obedience training 30 years ago...Then, it was almost all collar corrections and praise. Gradually things have changed and now the pendulum has swung in an arc over to treat training: treats for a straight front, finish, about turns; treats are used as a positive reward for a "job" done right. But I think that lost in all that food - and I'm not saying treats don't work - cuz they certainly do, and it is the standard training for almost all high - achieving competitive dogs, is the fact that a genuine word softly spoken, a direct look in your dog's eye, and a feeling that passes between the two of you is effective, and in my opinion, is more genuine and fosters a true bond with your dog.

I feel that treats are motivating and I have used some, but to go to a deeper level where you really understand your dog and they are proud they pleased you and you smile at them and say, "Good Dog!" - to me, that is better than treats. When reading my latest magazine from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, I saw an article about whether animals feel emotions. Gregory Berns, PHD, M.D., a Neuro scientist at Emory University, put trained dogs through MRI's to examine specific pathways in their brains when they experience things humans like. The focus was on comparing responses to food versus the responses to social rewards like praise. Of the 15 dogs in the study, 13 showed responses to praise in the brain's reward system that were equal or greater than their response to food. "As a result", Berns states, "we can say with certainty that dogs value the social bond, (praise) with people as much as the food."

Sometimes I feel I am swimming upstream in the present day current of dog shows. I do treat sometimes, but I value the deeper bond and feeling I get when I go below that surface snack and feel a connection. We exchange glances and I feel a feeling pass between us. That is why I dog train.

Christmas Present

Some people believe that time, instead of being linear, going in a direct line from A to B, is actually circular. What is was, and what was is. We visit the times in the past as we proceed along the circle of life, and the future is in us also. Perhaps that's why, as folks grow older, they remember so clearly visions of their early childhood-it is because the line is closing in on itself, completing and nearing the beginning where it all started. We are all in each others" lives. Neighbors, the country we live in, the times, our friends, and, of course, present in the lives of our dogs.

I don't know how many times training my dogs has helped me through tough times. Somehow just being on the training floor, doing figure 8's, or straight heeling, for that one half hour I am free of outside distractions and worry. It helps me be in the present, and relieve the stress of worrying. Thank God for our dogs. They are present and also a presence in our life.

Many years ago, on Christmas Eve, I took a cassette player, with a few Christmas songs on it, out to the small cemetery where our family lies.  Great-uncles, aunts, great-grandparents, mom, dad and cousins are all buried there. It is a quiet prairie cemetery, on a rise overlooking a large slough. A long time ago, Indians had a summer camp there. 

I went out to the graves about 7 PM: clear skies and a brisk December wind. I stood behind a tall obelisk, and pushed the play button, "O Holy Night" played by a clarinet, settled out among the resting. I could almost hear elbows nudged from grave to grave - "Do you hear that? Listen - someone came out to play us music." The notes hung over the snow and drifted down to join the departed. I left the cold and went back to the warmth of the present. But sometimes, when I visit the graves in the summer, I can hear, in the hot, soft air, traces of that music still playing - resonating out among the short prairie grass. Christmas Past is Present, and Merry Christmas to all!

 

 

Giving Thanks

When fall comes we wrap our memories around us like a soft, well worn coat. We take the coat out of our closet of memories and snuggle down for the winter. The trees have lost all their leaves and their branches extend into the sky like bristles on a hairbrush.

This season is for remembering and giving thanks. There is not a day that goes by that I don't remember my mom and I'm sure many others remember their parents now. I also can feel in my mind's eye the soft fur of many dogs who have heeled alongside me and now wait in heaven. How lucky we are to have found a sport and a training school that lets us be close to our dogs! Here at Canine College we are grateful for the new puppy owners who entrust their gentle pets to us for socializing and learning - thank you new pet owners! We are glad for the students who come to class week after week and whose presence helps us continue our spirit and reputation. And very importantly - we are grateful to our instructors! Mike, who takes the energy of beginning dogs and channels it into a dog who - gasp!- pays attention. JoAnna continues on in class 2 and Dean inherits us all in Novice - thank you! Pat helps with our novice dogs, Rose does the fun job of introducing and perfecting the jumping and fetching and Dorothy teaches our advanced class, utility with skill. We hope that some of your canine memories will meld with ours, then we can all wear our soft winter coats together.

Reminiscence

It has been a year since Marly died. I believe that each generation stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before - and Marly's shoulders must have been very broad because they have supported a whole host of students who have gone on to be obedience instructors, AKC judges, winning obedience teams and all around good canine exhibitors. We cherish her memory and are glad to carry on in the sport of obedience.