Bill M. practices behavior modification with dogs, but he calls it teaching dog obedience classes. He practices the praise method and works with dog owners to get "favorable responses" from the dogs.
Bill began his dog-training days five years ago when he first invited an Alaskan Malamute into his life. "It's especially important for large dogs to be trained," says Bill, patting the head of his current Malamute, Godiak, while his poodle Tiki bites Godiak's tail.
The three methods of training a dog, according to Bill, are baiting, praising, and punishing. "If you train the dog with the praise method," he says, "the dog will learn to do it on command, without a reward, because he wants to do it. He will enjoy the praise and pleasure with following the command."
"With the baiting method, the dog won't follow your command unless you have a box of goodies," he continues. "The punishment method will produce a cowering animal. He'll cower constantly at your side. Physical punishment doesn't usually work, and, if it does work, it works too well. The animal can become nervous and high strung, feeling he's in a corner and always defending himself. He's unpredictable then.
"Usually it will take a completely strange person to bring the dog out of damage done by punishment training. It can take two or three years to bring an animal out of this, and the trainer will have to be both kind and firm with the animal."
Bill sticks to basic obedience training. "At the end of the course, the dog should heel, come on command, stay, sit, and lay down, all on command." Bill says he won't teach attack or guard dogs. "For that kind of training, you have to become a little vicious with the animals, and I don't have the heart for it."
According to Bill, there is no problem with training an old dog. "We get them from pups to five years old. The first thing you have to do is teach the dog to follow commands while he's on a leash or lead. For training, we use a choke or rolled-leather collar; it won't hurt the dog if it's properly used."
Part of the job of the classes, according to Bill, is to teach the dog owner. "You want to keep the commands simple to avoid confusion. For example, the command is 'sit,' not 'sit down.' You have to give one command at a time."
Usually if the people are serious about training their dogs and work at it, they'll get a favorable response. It's easy to spot a dog that hasn't been properly trained between sessions, and when a person gets caught in his own laziness, he naturally doesn't like it. However in a class, everyone has to keep up. A dog should be worked twice a day, 15 to 30 minutes, each day, at the same time, rain or shine."
Bill says an animal is most easily trained by repetition and by keeping a tight time table. "That way the animal knows when he's supposed to perform his stuff. Even after the course ends, a person should go thru the practice session every day."
The best kind of dog to have, according to Bill, is a friendly dog which has had basic obedience training and which has not been severely beaten for any reason. "Many people ask the difference between training pure breeds and mixed breeds. There isn't any difference. The only reason I prefer to work with pure breeds is because the people usually have made a cash investment in them and are more willing to take care of them."
According to Bill, "Sometimes basic obedience training will solve problems around the house such as wetting on the floor and chewing the furniture. What happens is that in the obedience class the dog learns he's not the boss."
"Many people feel a dog should be left untrained and in its natural state," says Bill, "but in this world a dog needs the protection of an owner. If properly trained, the dog will stay with its master and not be where it shouldn't be.
"I've come across people who couldn't train a dog, but I've never met an untrainable dog. I don't think there's a dog who can't be trained. It's a matter of how much time and effort you want to put into it. If you want your car to run, you have to put gasoline in it; if you want a well-trained dog, you have to work at it."
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