I have two dogs. Lily is a rat terrier/border collie mix, and so she is alert, prey-driven, smart, and intense. She is a good farm dog and chases flying hawks out of the sky over our hen houses, keeps the deer out of the garden, and the squirrels off of the grass.
Scooter is a chihuahua mix. He is a lap dog. He is sweet and playful. His job is to keep Lily busy so that she doesn’t drive me crazy. He’s good at that, although lately he’s been asking for more attention from me. So, although he has perfect house manners and is easy to get along with, I’ve decided to do some training with him.
I’ve put off training Scooter – sheer laziness on my part – but it’s time. I like training animals. I believe in manners (kids, adults, animals all need them), and the only way to get a dog to be polite is to train it. Safety is an issue – I want the dog to come when called, stay in the car until given an “ok,” and be gentle when taking treats. And then there are the silly pet tricks. They’re so fun!
But the biggest reason to train your dog (or your chicken, I’ve trained them too) is to communicate more effectively with them. And the best way to do that is by “clicker training.” If you’re not familiar with this, go to my friend, Karen Pryor’s web site. In a nutshell, it’s positive reinforcement, using the same techniques that are used with marine mammals. It’s kind, it’s precise, it’s effective.
Here is a funny training story:
I am training Scooter to stand on a piece of cardboard. Sort of like getting an actor to go to his mark on stage. While I work with Scooter, I have Lily in a down stay on her mat. I toss her a cookie every once in awhile to reward her for staying put.
Scooter is just learning to go to the cardboard. He tends to take his time, sniff around a bit, and looks at me to see if staring at me with his big liquid brown eyes will get him a cookie without actually doing the work. Lily is watching. Scooter circles the cardboard. Lily has had it. She jumps up, smacks the cardboard with her paw and then goes back to her mat. It is absolutely clear that she is thinking, “there you stupid puppy, just do it!!!”
What’s really impressive about Lily’s outburst is that I’ve never taught her the cardboard trick. She figured it out just by watching me train Scooter!