During a recent training session with a client and her adorable puppy, I had the opportunity to work on tricks. Mind you, every new behavior is a “trick”- even Sit, Down, Stay, etc… The session was fun for me and highlighted the capacity dogs have for learning, especially when utilizing positive reinforcement techniques done with clicker training. As Scooter’s mom and friend looked on, I had Scooter performing the tricks “shake”, “roll-over”, and “spin” within 45 minutes. I think what surprised them both was the fact that I never said one word to the pup during the initial training of each new trick.
I absolutely love to use clicker training as my primary methodology when I work with dogs. There is no doubt that dogs play an active role in the learning process and seeing it in action is just, well- really cool. I could go into great detail here on clicker training but for now will just highlight the point that the clicker device provides an audible sound which let’s the dog know, “yes! That’s it!” and is always followed by a reward. A trainer presses the clicker in the exact moment the dog offers the behavior he/she is trying to teach.
Scooter jumped on this right away, offering up different behaviors. Every time he lifted his paw, I was able to click and treat. He tried a variety of things until he began to notice that it was the paw lift and putting it in my hand that got the click sound every time. Once he figured that out, he offered up the same behavior every single time. Keep in mind, that I did not say one word until he understood what we were doing. At that point, I started to say “shake” before he lifted his paw. Before we knew it, BAM, he was “shaking” our hands. Now that he had this down, teaching the next couple tricks was easy. He knew how the “training game” was played and learned the other tricks much faster.
While my training session focused on simple tricks, think about the work that goes into training service dogs, drug sniffing dogs, search and rescue dogs, or dogs that perform for entertainment. Most of the behaviors these dogs learn can be quite complex and need to be chunked down into steps which are then put together. Some are founded in instinctive behavior but others are completely new to the dog and must be learned. Dogs can do amazing things…the potential is there and unlimited if it is fostered properly. I’m sure, like me, you have encountered the occasional “unruly” dog. Unfortunately, a lot of these are the ones who are surrendered to shelters because their owners never took the time to unleash their potential through proper training. This is such a shame. Provided with opportunity and the right instruction dogs and humans can accomplish unbelievable things.
This past week marked the countdown to my daughter’s departure from high school. It began with her final high school show choir performance. Abby has been involved in a performing arts program since she was in elementary school. As we sat through 4 shows, beaming with pride in each one, so many memories flooded my head. Watching her transform over the past two years into a wonderful leader and positive role model has left Jon and I both very proud. Abby belongs on stage, we have known this since she was 2. She unleashes her potential on stage with incredible passion every time the stage lights go on. More importantly, you see her potential backstage and offstage as she coaches and mentors others, inspiring them to find and unleash their own potential within. The combination of her talent, love for the arts, her unwavering commitment, and the right guidance over the years has provided her with tremendous opportunities.
As a parent, you marvel at how your children grow. I look at Abby more closely these days- with love and admiration for the young woman she has become. I’ve always known the possibilities that lay within my daughter and to watch her discover this on her own is what every parent hopes for. As she walks across the stage next week to receive her diploma, there will be tears in our eyes. Tears of filled with joy (and maybe even a little relief) for the opportunities ahead as she continues to follow her dreams. Abby discovered the importance of focusing on something you are passionate about, believing in yourself, giving 110% as you pursue your goals, learning from great teachers and mentors, and never being afraid to unleash the potential within to become the best you could possibly be.
Hmmm…., just think where she’d be if I’d used a clicker
Abby will be attending the Young Americans College of the Performing Arts