A Practical Approach to Motivational Dog Obedience Training
Lori Drouin            Fall River Mills, California

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About me and my approach to training


   I found my way into competition obedience in 1972 as a summer project with my Sheltie, and the project became a lifelong passion and eventually a profession.

   Training techniques have evolved throughout the years, from primarily pop and praise, to adding in food and toys as rewards, then to shaping with emphasis purely on positive reinforcement. As a trainer and an instructor, I have found that all techniques work on some dogs, but none are universally successful and reliable on every dog, since dogs aren’t computers operating on a single language system, and handler skills vary considerably. Ultimately success is based on clarity and consistency, and presentation of information in a way that makes sense to the particular dog in front of you today. While I prefer to focus primarily on using positive reinforcement in teaching, my dogs have taught me that identifying errors with the same clarity used for marking achievements accelerates their learning, improves reliability, and reduces the stress associated with the constant guessing inherent in a free-shaping process.

   I use verbal markers and rewards with the same timing and intention behind the use of clickers. I find that natural communication with my voice, body language, and hands enriches my relationship with my dogs and allows a more nuanced means of conveying complete and detailed information. For example, with different words I can tell the dog that he has done exactly what I want and is done and eligible for rewards, or I can tell him he is doing a good job and should keep going.

   I can also tell him exactly when he’s made a mistake and redirect him back to a successful path before he gets too lost, and reassure him that yep, he’s back on track.  Some dogs, and some particular training contexts,  require more physical assistance than others; but physical guidance in my mind should be measured. I do what is necessary to stop an error, and convey information to the dog about what he should do next. I want to motivate him to make correct choices and follow instructions, not show that I can physically propel him into a position, or use physical punishment to vent anger or frustration. My primary correction is the use of low-level collar pressure applied in the direction I want the dog to move. It's a mild annoyance, which the dog turns off by following direction. It is only applied to behaviors the dog knows how to do, and the dog is educated about how to respond to the correction in each particular command context.

   In my competition career, I have put UDs on 7 dogs, had 2 more CDXs and 2 CDs, 2 OTChs and a UDX 3, an RE and an RA. I dabble at agility, and enjoy the cross training as another place to build teamwork and practice communication skills. My breed of choice is the Sheltie, but included in those titles were a Dalmatian, an Australian Shepherd and 2 Norwegian Elkhounds. I served as director of training for Oakland Dog Training Club for 9 years, and have taught all levels from puppy through Utility. I have enjoyed working with a variety of breeds who taught me a LOT about flexibility in training. I am  an AKC judge for Novice obedience, and a columnist for Front and Finish magazine.