Musings of "An Old Woman, Learning and Timmy the Corgi"

For starters, I've made more mistakes in training my dogs than I care to recount, you have time to read or MyCorgi has space for! LOL I’m not a spring chicken as you can guess and quality of life becomes more precious to me with each passing day. Now you know where I'm coming from. What’s that got to do with training, you ask?

Well, Timmy is the first corgi I've owned, that’s what! In my former life I raised and obedience trained German Shepherd Dogs (GSD’s). My shepherds were sensitive, noble, very loving and most eager to please. Truly, a breed apart! My heart still skips when I see a beautiful GSD. However, my corgi has those qualities is smaller and more exasperating than any GSD I’ve ever lived with.

In the past I expected my dogs to learn what I want and that MY praise should be the only thing they work for! Training was all about being “dominant” and using physical force or manipulation to get our dogs to “obey”. Yank, pull, push, alpha rolls, and talk with a deep voice, was how I learned to train. The goal, to prove I was “dominant” and to be feared. Thankfully, my shepherds were forgiving of my mistakes and succeeded in the obedience ring despite them.

Long before I got Timmy, I wanted a “better” way to train. One that is physically easier and more personally rewarding. Dominance has never been my forte` and I’m not getting any younger. So I used my “superior”(?) intelligence to do plenty of reading, working with qualified trainers, behaviorists and rescue organizations in my local area. Not only did I learn from each person, organization and book, but I truly believe that Timmy and I have developed a special relationship, like none I’ve ever had with a dog. What did I learn? As Cesar would say, “he’s an animal first; dog, second; Pembroke Welsh Corgi, third; and finally my sidekick, Timmy. From other sources I learned to channel and shape his strengths into the behaviors I wanted. Take all the things he absolutely loves, like chasing a ball (or any other object), a game of tug, walks, herding, and leaving pmail on every bush or pole and make them a reward for good behavior. Good behavior gets rewards, bad behavior gets “So sorry” and nothing. Oh, happy day! Nirvana! Or in my part of the world “Eureka!” LOL

So what’s the secret, “Positive reinforcement training!”. Positive reinforcement training takes a commitment of time and patience. No reverting to physical corrections and/or punishments. (This was the hardest for me to learn. It’s very easy to fall back on learned habits, especially for us old ladies!!). I vowed to face my faults and mistakes and work through the problems without using positive punishment (aka “the old ways”). Often I would work through a training session without actually having Timmy there. (Kind of like walking my imaginary dog!) A friend of mine here on MyCorgi once said that so much of training is common sense. Therefore, if Timmy wasn’t learning what I wanted, I needed to look at what I was doing wrong, not applying force.
I will give you an example. Timmy could never have been a therapy dog working with the Delta Society if I had used traditional old methods of training. He hated to be hugged as a youngster. Hated it! He would snarl air-bite, growl and run away if I tried to hug him. It took many many months, slowly getting him to accept hugging. It started with a simple soft touch to his collar. Today he loves being hugged and will look for permission to offer it. (Many patients or facilities may not approve of kisses or a dog’s face touching a patient's face). He knows that he'll be rewarded by the smiles on patients' faces and play or fun from me when we’re done visiting. Viva la difference!

If you’re interested or want to get started, I suggest reading "The Other End of the Leash" by Patricia McConnell and "Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson. Learn how to "read" a dog's body language (including mouth and teeth). It's really the only way they can communicate with us. Then I would encourage using Pat Miller's approach to training, detailed in her book "The Power of Positive Dog Training". Another great author, animal behaviorist and trainer I recommend is, Dr. Ian Dunbar. He has written many books and has a website detailing his methods,

Today, when I take out the clicker and treats, he goes absolutely NUTS. I say, “Let’s go play” and he starts to look around and see what I might want. His eyes riveted on me, and begins touching everything with his nose and paws; saying (in his own way) “Is this it? Is this it?” I’ve never seen a dog more eager to “play”. So in the words of this wise human, “learning” is a reward/play for him now. Sneaky don’t you think? A relationship based on positive reinforcement grows deeper everyday. It’s a goal we can all benefit from aspiring to.

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Comment by Sylvia on October 31, 2008 at 2:01am
A truly wonderful post to read Sylvia! *I may be biased as a fellow Sylvia as well but you know ;) * You have a very great many things to say as I am looking to move from my GSD/Malamute mix to a Corgi of my own that gets to come home with me on the 7th of November. I am going to try VERY hard after having quite a few dominance and stubborn issues with Asher to try to really only use positive reinforcement with his training.
I will be going to the library to see if they have any of the above mentioned. Thank you so much once again.

Oh, I did have one question, I found it much easier to potty train Asher the last little ways by never actually "punishing" him for making a mess in the house figuring it was more than likely a sick stomach or my own inattention to his needs that caused the mess in the first place. So instead of punishing him I would just escort him outside if he was looking like he would or started to, and then calmly just cleaned up the mess and left it at that. After a while if he needed to go outside he would just look at me and then the door, and Bark once if I had headphones on or was asleep *if I was asleep he would whimper to wake me up* Would you say this is a right way to do things? I remember hearing and reading on a few blogs that people such as Ceaser Milan would say that dogs repeat bad behaviors or create them because they are actually tramatized during a situation. What is your opinion?
Comment by Katie on July 24, 2008 at 2:00pm
thanks for the 'positive' post and the reading resources.
Comment by Juel on July 24, 2008 at 1:55pm
Thanks Silvia! you are always inspiring to me! Thanks for continueing to share your knowledge!
Comment by Cindi on July 24, 2008 at 9:14am
As a trainer, I am inspired by your post! Thank you for writing it. You have said all the things I try to instill in my clients. All of the books you suggest are excellent. In my experience, it's not only the old ways of training that call us but our own impatience at the learning process. You backed up a couple of steps to re-evaluate how Timmy was learning and what was missing in the training. BINGO! Excellent post!
Comment by Charlie on July 23, 2008 at 10:34pm
That is touching and heartwarming story, full of good advice. I have also seen great results and love the relationship produced by positive-only training methods. You story is quite eloquent. Thank you for sharing.
Comment by Reese on July 23, 2008 at 8:32pm
Yay for positive reinforcement! That is something that I've learned working for a company that is all about positive reinforcement. There's a book that a few of co-workers help write called "Whale Done!" It's a really interesting book if you get a chance to read it. Positive reinforcement goes further than just training an animal, but many aspects of your life. Just about everyone I work with has that book on their bookshelf. Syliva that was just a motivational blog... =) Thanks!
Comment by Sam Tsang on July 23, 2008 at 7:45pm
Bravo! That was a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing :)
Comment by Lucy Hicks on July 23, 2008 at 7:36pm
You give me hope!! I too am a first time corgi owner and have a few years on me. I am known as the "older woman"!! (That is the kind phrase!)
My cardi is 10 months and we are in obedience class that promotes positive reinforcement.
Lilly was doing great, but all of a sudden she wants to be the class clown, socialize with all the other dogs,etc. We practice at home (short sessions), but she still is only at about 65 to 70% trial success. Now, as we are suppose to fade treats( she was on an intermittment schedule) for down command, her front paws will not move until she smells the hidden treat.
I do use different treats, but if you have any suggestions would appreciate the help.


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