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  • Writer's pictureSarah Dykes

The Heart Dog

I think like most dog trainer-types, I got into dog training when I adopted my very first dog on my own. Sure, I had grown up with dogs and other animals, but it’s different when your dog is all yours. It’s especially different when you decide to take a risk on the skinny, square-ish headed, docked tailed bundle of energy that ‘s been at the local shelter for 6 months.

Once I got over the fact that my first dog may have pit bull in him, I figured I had better train him “the right way”. Deciding that leash corrections and choke chains were a thing of the past, I got on the internet, looked at pit bull rescues, their recommended trainers, and the recommended training methods. Here, I found the world of positive reinforcement – basically what I was already doing, but I definitely needed a little tweaking.

Positive reinforcement made sense – reward what I like, and the behavior will increase in frequency and/or intensity. Classical conditioning also made sense – pair something my dog doesn’t like with something he really likes, and eventually, his feelings towards the disliked thing will change. I really liked this – we did this a lot.

We had the usual challenges of dog owners and new adolescent dogs – not listening when other dogs were around, eating poop, and jumping up. Instead of losing my cool, I began packing a few cookies in my pocket. Pairing poop with cookies soon stopped the poop eating; seeing another dog and then returning for a cookie soon turned those listening ears back on. Pretty soon, Carmac and I didn’t need so many cookies, and the crazy dog that no one wanted to adopt turned into the best buddy I could want. He taught me what I needed to learn and where to learn it so that I could help other dogs and their guardians. Thanks to all of that positive training, Carmac also now helps student dogs learn that strange dogs mean good things are going to happen!

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