For Overachievers: Train Your Dog to Find Gourmet Mushrooms
Train Your Dog
The excuse goes something like this: "I don't want a robot. I want my dog to be himself." Right. Especially since he's so "friendly" that he can't help but vault the fence to chase every cyclist. But if you're going to bring your dog along on your adventures—and really, nothing beats it—he needs the self-control to ignore rabbits, stay close, leave food alone, and avoid being a nuisance. With my Labrador Danger, I experimented with several training methods. Here's what I learned.
1. A dog needs to know only four things: sit, here, heel, and stay. If he does nothing more than come when called, even when squirrels or other dogs are around, you're doing fine.
2. Behaviors followed by positive consequences are more likely to be repeated. Behaviors followed by negative consequences are less likely to be repeated.
3. Start positive. Clicker training, which uses a plastic noisemaker to mark a successful behavior at the instant it occurs, is an easy and effective way to begin. (Karen Pryor's 1999 book Don't Shoot the Dog! does a nice job of explaining it.)
4. Figure out what your dog truly loves—treats, affection, squeaky toys, etc.—and reserve his favorites for rewards.
5. They're always learning, not just when you're training.
6. Once your dog knows—really knows—what he's supposed to be doing, set boundaries, apply corrections, and make it clear that obedience, though it will be rewarded, is not optional.
7. You cannot be the Dog Whisperer. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recently came out against the pack-leadership, dominance/submis-sion training model. Instead of trying to impersonate an alpha wolf—trust me, you're bad at it— just be a human leader. Stand up straight, speak clearly, and don't repeat yourself.
8. With dogs, it's about getting what they want: food, play, retrieves, affection. And to get what they want, they've got to give you what you want: calm, attentive behavior.