The Holy Grail Of Dog Training

Tucker Running.jpg

Two-thirds of the Dog Star Daily team is in the Sierra Mountains. Yesterday, the weather was absolutely atrocious. Cold, windy, and wet. After trying to keep up with my son Jamie all day, everything below my neck ached — but nothing that a long soak in the hot tub and a blazing fire wouldn’t improve.

Still "ouching" on the couch (in just moderate pain), I decided I would check email… a whole bunch of messages, including four from our editor, one of which instructed me to write a blog post. I just felt too tired to write and anyway, why would Dog Star Daily readers be interested in a blog about weather conditions and skiing? I stayed prone on the couch.

Today, in inimitably Californian fashion, the skies were blue and the sun shone brightly. Of course, the snow wass still stodgy with a gently frosted crust, but we’re up here and life is just marvelous! Feeling a mite blog-guilty, I was desperately trying to think of potential topics while riding the chair lift, when, at the top of the mountain, who should I see, but Tucker, standing doggy-golden and resplendent in the morning sunshine.

Tucker is a young male Golden Retriever with a big responsibility. He’s the mountain’s search & rescue dog. Ahhhh ha! An interview for Dog Star Daily! As I approached, Tucker was happily engaging a family with two boys.

I chatted to Tucker’s handler about training. Basically, they practice by sealing volunteers in snow caves and asking Tucker to find them. And, following each find, it’s time for a game of fetch or tug with a glove. If likely volunteers are unavailable, they have Tucker search for a glove. (A glove is the smelliest piece of clothing that is readily available and removable — barring a Zoolanderesque underwear removal).

I asked the handler how he motivated Tucker to work, and his reply, in one short sentence, pretty much summed my multi-day seminars: “Training is the reward.” Tucker lived for training.

Tucker enjoyed training so much that praise and external rewards were nice, but certainly not necessary. For Tucker, “just doing it” was reward enough. Tucker had become self—motivated and internally rewarded by the training process. For Tucker, work and play had become interchangeable; work was fun and the best fun was work. This of course is the Holy Grail of Training — when training is the ultimate reward.

Watching Tucker interact with two young boys, I absolutely knew that he would perform brilliantly if ever his unique talents were required. If the Ski Patrol were in serious search mode and had no time to play with Tucker, I know that Tucker would search his heart out to find a buried playmate.

Teaching and training should always be enjoyable, even when it comes to correcting problems.  Case in point… back to skiing the knee-deep California cement between the trees, I was having another Zoolander moment: my right turns were effortless and smooth but my left turns were strained an erratic. I was no longer an ambi-turner. I was under-performing, making mistakes. I needed a lesson. I had a problem that required correction. Jamie observed my flailing left turns and suggested a minor weight shift. I followed his advice and instantly, the problem was corrected.  The activity was enjoyable; the correction was both pleasant and effective, making the activity even more enjoyable.

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