Dogisgood.com describes Dogvergnügen as “The unique joy you feel in the presence of Dog”. So, this is how I will introduce myself. “Hello, my name is Toni, and I have Dogvergnügen.” My dog and I have a connection better than most people have with their significant other. She’s honestly my favorite thing about life. I find Sadie fascinating in every sense of the world. When she turns her head sideways to examine a cat, when she barks in her sleep during (what I assume to be) a dream, and when she looks at me for her next cue.
I adopted Sadie when she was about 6 months old and I’ve been her Mom for about 3 years. She’s spent most of the 3 years hanging out with me. Whether it be spooning in bed, sleeping by my feet at work, or traveling with me to visit family. All that time spent together has allowed Sadie and me to develop a trusting, committed, and confident relationship. That relationship is the very basis of my training with her.
Sadie knows a lot of behaviors. She can sit, lay down, give each paw, roll over, hug, give kisses, crawl, speak, be quiet, talk quietly, go between the legs, turn around, walk backwards, act shy, jump, target, and more. When I first adopted Sadie, I didn’t really know the concepts or terminology of clicker training or positive reinforcement. I only knew that I wanted to trust her and I wanted her to trust me, so I never yelled at her and I never hit her. I didn’t really know what else to do, but I knew what I wouldn’t do.
My training experience grew over time and I learned a lot more about the importance of maintaining a positive relationship. To me, that meant giving Sadie lots of love and no yelling. Not just during training sessions, but always.
I love and reward a lot so that she knows our relationship is still strong, confident, and positive. I give love for looking cute, for laying next to me, for looking at me, for looking out the window, and for anything she does that I find great.
I talk to her a lot in different voices. My philosophy is that she hears me talk to people all day so my voice may sound like background noise. When I talk to her, I don’t want her to think I might be talking to someone else. I have specific “Sadie voices” that are exciting and usually high-pitched. These voices are for her only so that she knows I am talking directly to her. It’s a way for me to communicate to her and say “Hi, I love you! I’m paying attention to you and I think you’re awesome!
I’ve talked a lot about loving her all the time. This does not mean that she is the most well-behaved dog all the time. In fact, Sadie is notorious for barking at random strangers, chasing squirrels, and barking at glares on the wall until I am driven to the looney bin. So my method to this behavior is to redirect and reward an appropriate behavior. If that isn’t possible, I remove the problem (and no, the problem is not Sadie).
When Sadie finds that random man or woman to bark at, I ask her to sit and she usually quiets down. She does this not because the person is suddenly non-threatening or has disappeared, but because she is now more focused on doing what I ask so that she will get rewarded. This is where consistency is key! When we’re in a stressful situation, I ask her to sit.
The most important thing I can do now is reward her once she is quiet. If I don’t reward – or worse, if I yell – next time I ask her to sit she’ll think “Why? I won’t be rewarded and I might even be yelled at!” Instead, with consistency, she remembers that the last time this happened, she sat and was rewarded. Therefore, she sits. Simple!
Now on to the fun stuff - the tricks! If I’m working with her on a new trick, she is engaged and she’s trying because she knows we’ll reach a “jackpot” moment where she “gets it” and I reward like crazy. A lot of trainers use the term “jackpot”, but I call it “Christmas morning”. When I think back to my own childhood, there was nothing more exciting than Christmas morning. So when she finally gets what I want her to do, or even close if I’m shaping, I reward with the same amount of excitement that there was on Christmas morning!
More importantly, during our training sessions, I won’t just say a command over and over hoping that she might miraculously understand it and do it. A huge pet peeve of mine is watching owners say “Sit. Sit please. Sit. Charlie, Sit. Sit, Charlie. SIT! Sit please. Sit! Sit! SITTT!!!!” And then of course, the inevitable “push the butt on the ground” happens here.
If Sadie doesn’t do what I want her to do at the end of the training session, I don’t leave her unrewarded and confused. I want every training session to end well. So I ask her to do something she already knows and then “Christmas morning” happens. She might not have accomplished everything I wanted, but she knew that “Christmas morning” still came. And when we start our next training session, she trusts it’ll come again, so she’ll work for it.
Sadie and I work a lot together. Every single day actually. I don’t ever view it as work, because it isn’t. Rewarding and working with Sadie every day is like kissing my fiancé good-bye in the morning, hugging my family hello when I greet them, and telling my Grandmother that I love her on the phone.
I do it because I love them and I want our relationship to be strong. I want them to know how important they are to me. I’ll never have “true” insight into Sadie’s brain, but I believe Sadie knows how important she is to me, so she’s willing to target train, to crawl over 15 ft., and to just be a good dog. Sadie is my soul sister, my brown- eyed girl, and quite frankly, the best thing that ever happened to me.
“In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.” –Edward Hoagland