18 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY april 4-10, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com One evening, a couple brought their new dog to a training course with the Del Monte Kennel Club. The animal was a recent rescue and its nerves were frayed, not knowing what had happened in its life or just who these people trying to buddy up to it were. While many trainers use treats as an incentive for dogs, this particular class relied on toys—an opportunity for the frazzled pet to play. It took to a ball attached to a rope. “Boy, the change in this dog,” recalls Susan Cohen, obedience training chair for the longstanding club. “It was like, ‘You people might be alright, after all.’” Where in the distant past, hard yanks on a leash or punishment for poor behavior might be meted out to a dog handed over for the purpose, programs today seek to motivate and reward the dog. And the goals range from teaching fundamental obedience to performing tricks or competing in interactive sports such as scent work. Through the process, the canine and its owners learn more about each other. In fact, Bonnie Logue, behavior training manager for SPCA Monterey County, insists that the courses focus more on instructing the human half of the relationship. “It’s really coaching the people,” she explains. “They are going to be living with the dog. My job is to give them the skills to train the dog.” What is now called positive reinforcement training is not new. Dogs have been trained toward various purposes—herding, search and rescue, guarding—since they were first domesticated many millennia ago. Over that span, many techniques have been employed, without the benefit of scientific research. Little by little, trainers learned to correlate behavior and consequences. However, as professional training developed through the 20th century, much of it was geared toward police or military activity, as well as dog shows. Writing on the evolution of obedience training for the National Animal Interest Alliance, Mary R. Burch noted that into the 1960s “many trainers felt that dogs had to be ‘broken’ in order to be trained.” Common methods included the use of choke chains. One prominent trainer advocated pushing a dog’s nose into water and holding it as a way to prevent them from digging. Burch, the author with Jon S. Bailey of How Dogs Learn, explains that attitudes really began to change in the 1980s, coinciding with new approaches to the treatment of humans with disabilities and mental health issues. “Now all research has shown that dogs change behavior for love—toys, food or anything the dog enjoys,” says Ratna Anagol, trainer and owner of California Canine Dog Training in Pacific Grove. “The training is faster and more effective.” Cohen of Del Monte Kennel Club was a medical professional by trade. “I came to dog training through having untrained dogs,” she explains, seconding the effect of positive reinforcement. “I’m fascinated by what dogs give to us and how willing they are to work with us.” As obedience training evolved, it also expanded. There is fundamental instruction toward what is referred to as canine good citizenship. “They can be touched by strangers, they can walk past another dog without reacting,” says SPCA’s Logue. Good citizenship, as well as the emerging field of separation anxiety training—Logue is certified as a pet trainer and in separation anxiety— reach well beyond simple obedience. “A lot of times dogs are surrendered to the shelter for behavioral issues that could have been easily prevented,” she says. Citizenship is essentially calm, mannered behavior in public. “It looks good to landlords. It looks good for certain insurance.” And with the growth of places welcoming to both humans and their pets, behavior fundamentals have become more important. It represents another change in priorities. “In the ’80s, people certainly weren’t taking them everywhere,” Anagol says. “They need to know the basics.” But more specialized courses are now offered, and competitions have emerged to allow animals to show off their skills. There is an event known as rally, with turns, figure-8s and jumps. Another works on tracking scents. Tricks class is self-explanatory, except that the goal is broader than performance. “I teach this for people to have fun with their dog,” Cohen observes. “They don’t want to be couch potatoes.” “They” in trainer vernacular refers to both pets and their people. Unlike the era when animals were sent away for obedience work, there is an understanding that, as Cohen says, “you have to get buy-in from the dog that you are in this together.” “I like to tell people that I could train your dog,” Anagol adds. “It’s really more important that the dog is listening to their human.” Through training, pet owners learn to recognize body language or other signs from their four-legged family member. “The human is a team with the dog; the human needs to know when the dog is uncomfortable.” Professional trainers suggest courses for all dog owners. However, they recommend instruction for puppies, for first-time dog owners and when there is a behavioral issue. Separation anxiety, for instance, should be addressed as soon as possible, as suffering pets have been known to tear up household items or even jump through windows, according to Anagol. But can old dogs be taught new tricks? “Absolutely,” Logue insists. “It’s actually really good for them.” Like humans, old dogs are prone to creeping dementia and other ailments. Constant learning helps slow such problems. Besides, without it, she points out, “They get into a rut.” Kelly (left) gets a reward during a Del Monte Kennel Club dog training class at the Monterey County Fair & Event Center. Classes are offered for all types of dogs, from puppies to an advanced level. Molly the dog takes a bow during the Del Monte Kennel Club’s dog training class at the county fairgrounds. Daniel Dreifuss Daniel Dreifuss Daniel Dreifuss The Pet Issue Training Basics The practice of teaching obedience to dogs has changed—and expanded—over time. By Dave Faries