Donna Rogers, owner of K-9 Capers Dog Training Academy, uses positive reinforcement to train her “clients.”
From a young age, a dog can be socialized, then trained. It’s a personal preference, however, as to what method to utilize and who will teach it.
There’s a common goal in training a dog: “To have a well-mannered dog who is confident and relaxed. Training reasserts your role as alpha and this makes your dog more comfortable with his place in the pack. The goal of training is not to rob your dog of his quirky qualities, such as mischievousness and clowning. It is also not a place for any kind of cruelty, such as harsh reprimands or physical dominance,” according to dogster.com.
Dog-training methods are typically broken down into two categories: positive reinforcement and punishment. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) lists three; two would be described as positive.
Lure-reward training has the trainer enticing the dog to obey a command. This is based on the dog seeing, following and receiving a reward, like a treat or favorite toy. Verbal praise is also an important part of this method.
Marker training – developed by Karen Pryor – uses a device, like a clicker or a sound, to indicate that a dog has obeyed a command. He hears the click, knows he’s done well and gets a reward and/or verbal praise. Unlike the lure-reward method, there’s a pause between obeying the command and receiving the reward so he doesn’t necessarily make a direct connection between the two at first.
These two positive forms utilize replacing the bad behavior with what is considered acceptable. “For example, to eliminate jumping up to greet, a dog might be taught to stand still (four-on-the-floor) or sit when the owner walks through the door. Another example is pulling on a leash during a walk. In order to eliminate pulling on a leash, the dog is trained and rewarded for walking on a loose leash. Loose leash walking is incompatible with pulling,” the APDT says.
Compulsion-praise training is what some dog trainers today consider negative reinforcement. It’s literally more hands-on, with the trainer using physical corrections to prompt completing a command. There are also various consequences when a dog that’s considered trained to a certain command fails to perform it, as explained by the APDT.
Good things stop: “The trainer removes something desirable to the dog. For example, a brief time-out, putting away the food treat, removing the dog from an activity or removing attention from the dog are all negative punishments when a dog does not comply.”
Bad things happen: “This includes such things as a sharp verbal reprimand, citronella collar, electronic collar and the like. Note: Collar ‘corrections’ with a choke collar or pinch collar fall into this category. The dog receives a collar check or ‘correction’ when the dog engages in an undesirable behavior. For example, for jumping up to greet, the trainer might stand on the leash so when the dog tries to jump up, he receives a correction. For pulling on leash, the trainer might give a collar check when the dog is out of heel position.”
Bad things stop: “The trainer removes something undesirable the moment the dog engages in the desired behavior. For example, the technique called ‘be a tree’ – standing still as long as the dog is pulling on leash – falls into this category. The moment the dog stops pulling, the trainer moves forward, rewarding the loose leash.”
A dog can concentrate for only so long, so 15-minute training sessions are typically best and can take place twice daily. Regardless of what method is used, it’s important to be calm, consistent and patient with your dog. You’ll both benefit from it.
Donna Rogers is a professional dog trainer, certified through the Council for Professional Dog Trainers. She’s also owner of K-9 Capers Dog Training Academy in Concord. As president of a local animal rescue back in 2000, she found herself taking home a dog after an adoption event one day.
Rebel – a red Heeler – had been through the rescue’s various foster homes but was notorious for jumping fences and running away. Not knowing what to do, Rogers went to a dog show and inquired about the “best” trainer. When found, the woman wouldn’t train Donna, per say, but she did allow her to enroll Rebel in her classes and let Rogers shadow her.
Along the way, Rogers discovered that there were few, if any, professional dog trainers locally, so she started doing her homework. Originally operating K-9 Capers within the Cabarrus Saddle Club, she now has space off Weddington Road where she employs the lure-reward method of training dogs. She’s very much an advocate of using positive reinforcement.
“Look at the best-trained dogs in the world: seeing-eye dogs for the blind,” Rogers says. “They do not use punishment training at all. So that’s the standard I use. These people really know how to train a dog, how to use their drives. I pushed myself a long time ago to reach those high standards.
“Punishment only gives a dog one side of the equation; it creates fear. It takes less time to train with positive reinforcement. Bad behavior bows out when a dog is shown the right way.”
Rogers particularly enjoys working with dogs that have specific issues, like resource guarding (aggressively guarding food, toys, people, etc.). Pongo is one such dog. Taken in from Animal Control by the Humane Society of Concord & Greater Cabarrus County, this 25-pound Hound mix guarded his food to the extreme. It got to the point that Rogers felt the best environment would be at her home where she could work with him one-on-one.
Two years later, Rogers has adopted Pongo and put him through training to become a search & rescue dog. In April, he received his N.C. Canine Emergency Response Team certification, and he and Rogers most recently came back from a training session in Washington, DC, conducted by police and the FBI. What has turned out to be Pongo’s area of expertise is human remains detection – a cadaver dog.
“Whether it’s a mix or full-blooded, there are some dogs with more of a working side of the brain than a pet side of the brain. The dog is just being a dog,” Rogers says. Together, she – as handler – and Pongo work cold cases with Central Piedmont Search and Rescue (CPSAR).
Forgetting that a dog is a pack animal has become an issue. ”I feel sorry for today’s dogs,” Rogers says. “It is harder on today’s dogs than ever before. We have more dog bites than ever before. They’re not allowed to be dogs, to run, bark…what they’re bred to do. They have to be able to have an outlet or they’re going to blow.”
So while Rogers offers puppy classes, and private and group sessions – Therapy Dog, Family Manners, Tracking, Search and Rescue and Canine Good Citizen, and Service Dog training – she also has canine clients that are with her to simply socialize with other dogs. And for families with kids, she has the whole family participate in the dog’s training, emphasizing that the children are often with the family pet most.
Taking participation with children a step further, Rogers is lead trainer for the K-9 Capers 4-H Club, where members participate in dog shows; she conducts a camp for kids and their dogs each summer; and teaches agility, dog-bite prevention, body language and breed study.
“In five years I want to have a full sports center for dogs and owners…dock diving, multiple trainers, agility, even a toenail trimming class.”
And Rebel? He’s now a senior citizen still living with Rogers and her family. Rogers says she recently worked with him, putting him through the usual commands. She was shocked at how he came alive, not missing a trick and seeming to smile while performing. He’s still got it!