Best Practical Guide to Dog Training 2019

with a variety of dogs. I don’t recall all the breeds, although I do distinctly

remember a couple of German Shepherds, a Cocker Spaniel and

at least two Irish Setters. All of the handlers were men, and there were

three other kids about my age in attendance, as well. The instructor, a

man who seemed ancient at the time but was probably in his early 40s,

had a crew cut and a very well trained Boxer. All the dogs were at least

six months old, with most closer to a year or older. All the dogs were

on choke chains, except for one who was on what I later learned was a

pinch collar.

The trainer was working on teaching the class how to properly

“heel” their dogs. I learned that “heel” meant the dog walked next to

you at your left side, even if you sped up, slowed down or turned

around. Most dogs in this class tended to pull ahead, which the trainer

called “forging.” To correct the forging behavior, the trainer instructed

the handlers to immediately turn in the opposite direction and literally

run the other way. Since most of the dogs were big, the kids couldn’t

participate in this exercise. I will never forget seeing what happened

when a 60-pound dog wearing a metal choke chain attached to a leash

held by a 180-pound man goes in one direction and the man runs in the

other. I saw dogs completely flipped off their feet, screaming, yelping

and, to be honest, more than a few learning very quickly not to forge

ahead.

After “teaching” this for about 15 minutes, the trainer separated the

class and had half walk about 50 feet away and face the other half. The

trainer then instructed the first group to heel their dogs toward the second

group, which was ordered to remain still. Any forgers were quickly

dealt with. When the moving group got about 15 feet from the stationary

group, a man’s dog in the stationary group started barking at one

of the dogs moving toward them. This dog then lunged forward, dragging

his handler toward the other dogs.

The trainer moved quickly to the offending dog, took the leash and

sharply jerked it in an attempt to correct the barking, lunging behavior.

When this had no effect, the trainer shouted “No” and repeated the correction

more strongly. It’s funny what things become etched in your

mind. I remember like it was yesterday watching the dog’s paws leave

the ground as the trainer yanked the leash. The dog turned toward

the trainer, and the trainer, perhaps thinking this dog was going to bite him,

completely lifted the animal off the ground and held him dangling in

the air. The dog’s barks became strangled yelps, and after 10 or 15 seconds

of struggling, the dog just kind of went limp. The trainer then put

the dog back on the ground, snapped the leash once more for good

measure and handed the leash back to his owner. The dog just kind of

stood there, still conscious but clearly dazed. I vividly remember wishing

I were old enough and strong enough to put the trainer on a leash

and collar and treat him exactly the same way. Great lessons for a kid

to learn, huh?

To his credit, my dad was sensitive enough to recognize that this

type of “training experience” was not appropriate for his 10-year-old

son. This was my first introduction to the world of dog training. My

dad and dog went back for a few more classes without me and then

they both became doggie school dropouts. We never did get Misty

trained, which never bothered me in the least. I liked chasing her.

As I grew older, my interest in animals grew, as did my passion for

dogs. I know I must have watched The Incredible Journey at least a

hundred times before I was 12. I started reading about dogs and about

training. Most books on the subject were tough going for a kid, but a

few stood out. One in particular, a book written in the early 1960s

called Family Dog by Richard Wolters, was a favorite. This book advocated

some things considered very radical at the time, including doing

a good deal of obedience training with puppies much younger than six

months of age. Wolters’ methods were also considerably gentler than a

lot of others out there at the time—although still fairly rough by

today’s standards. In fact, many of the pictures in this book showed the

author’s young daughter doing a lot of the training. He also discussed

canine developmental periods and suggested many of the ideas that are

taken for granted now, 40 years later. I often wondered whatever happened

to his daughter and whether the author ever knew how many

people his books influenced.

For many years I considered becoming a veterinarian, but was very

unsure that I would ever be able to euthanize a single animal. By the

time I was 20, I had probably read 80 or 90 books on the subject of

behavior and training. I also attended a number of training schools and

had decided to become a professional trainer. My reasons were varied,

but certainly included the fact that I could help dogs, as well as play

with them, and get paid for it. Imagine getting paid to be with puppies.

How cool is that? I thought it was extremely cool, and although the trials

and tribulations of building, managing and promoting two nationally

recognized training organizations can, at times, be anything but

cool, the truth is I still get paid to play with puppies!

I have always maintained a pragmatic and open mind toward training

methods, recognizing that truly open-minded people don’t think

they know it all. I’ve always been aware that the day I felt I knew it all

would be the day I would cease to learn. Since I’ve always wanted to

learn about dogs, I’ve always been very clear that I don’t come close

to knowing all there is. What I do know is that I would never be like

the trainer I remembered from my youth. Not ever!

In my travels, I learned that positive reward-based training is

almost always more effective than training based on punishment.

However, correction does have a place, as does reward, good timing

and excellent communication in the training process. Very critically,

I’ve learned to remain sensitive and loving toward my four-legged students, and even most of my two-legged ones.

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