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Bringing Dance Class Tips to Dog Training

February 2, 2010

Believe it or not I love to dance. You’d think as a certified professional dog trainer I’d be into Canine Freestyle – Trust me, if there were local classes I’d take them. Spending time dancing with my trusty sidekick and inquisitive canine Poncho the dog (besides in the kitchen and backyard) would be a total blast! Unfortunately there are zero canine freestyle dog training classes in our area – at least at this time. However, there are some alternatives for yours truly.

One of my favorite styles of dance is called West Coast Swing – it happens to be our official California State Dance. My friends Woody and Louise Bretz are the founders and owners of Connexions Dance Studio here in Ventura. They teach West Coast Swing, along with many other styles of dance. I’ve been having tons of fun revisiting the dance world, seeing lots of friends from the past and getting the ol’ dance shoes warmed up again – makes for great cross-training too.

Why do I bring this up? What does West Coast Swing dance classes have to do with dog training classes? Well, as a student I get to see things from a different perspective. Listening differently, out of my comfort zone, trying to pay attention while learning at the same time. It’s always humbling to put oneself in another’s position – or, having the shoe on the other foot (HA! no pun intended). Anyway, I was reminded of a few tips when it comes to partner dancing – I thought it would be good to bring up because these dance tips also relate to the dog-human partnership, making them good dog training tips.

You’ve heard me talk about the “The Four F’s” – now I want to bring up The Three T’s: Timing, Technique and Teamwork! All are important elements of partner dancing, and all are important when working, or partnering, with your dog – no matter if it’s taking dog obedience classes or canine freestyle classes. Here’s what I mean.

  • Timing: When it comes to rewarding behaviors you want your dog to perform, precise timing is key. When it comes to punishing behaviors you don’t want your dog performing timing is absolutely critical!

Let’s take house-training for instance. The ideal time is as soon as your dog is eliminating! Or immediately after! And I mean hang out with your dog while he or she goes, then throw a party, right then and there! Rewarding any time after that might result in training other behaviors – which can be a good thing, but it might not be the intended one.

An example for precise timing and punishment would be the Greeting Nicely behavior (because we never punish for eliminating in a forbidden area). If you want your dog to sit politely to greet, and he or she jumps up on you (because that’s normal dog behavior), then ignoring (which is the “punishment”) your dog as soon as his or her front paws started towards you would be ideal – not after he or she has made contact and you’ve reacted with any form of attention.

  • Technique: No doubt about this one. Positive reinforcement, humane, reward-based training methods. If you want it, reward it, you’ll get more of it. It’s that simple. I question the integrity, decency and coping skills of anyone who feels the need to use coercion, aversive and bullying techniques to get any animal to do something. Do such unpleasant techniques work? Sure they do – but not as well (science has proven this), plus other, often worse behaviors end up appearing.
  • Teamwork: It’s much more fun and pleasant to work with a partner whom you enjoy spending time with – this is why we adopt dogs in the first place. If you want your dog enjoying spending time with you, I say, do unto others!

For instance, understand your dog and his or her species specific traits. Think about the times when you take your dog out for a walk. Do you make it about his or her needs? Allowing to mark, sniff, even pull on leash once in awhile? Or is it all about you and having to get your walk or run in? How about when you run a few errands? Do you bring your dog with you, just so he or she can get out of the house? Or are they left at home?

When it comes to dancing I certainly use the title “leader”, but that’s because there is usually a “follower”. I prefer to use other terms with dog training. One of them being teamwork, which happens to be important for any type of relationship. My friend Tom seen in this pic practices all three T’s 🙂


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