Friday, September 22, 2006

Positive Dog Training Techniques - Heel, click. Sit, click. Good dog.

Heel, click. Sit, click. Good dog.
The Roanoke Valley SPCA held clicker training classes to help dogs be more adoptable.
By Beverly Amsler
Special to The Roanoke Times

Lilly, a 10-month-old yellow Labrador retriever, is standing at attention, her body alert. In front of her is her trainer, and Lilly knows she has a treat.

The two remain motionless, eyes locked, until Lilly suddenly sits down. Just as her rump touches the floor, there's a "click" and the trainer gives Lilly the treat.

It's called clicker training. The clicker is a piece of plastic, about an inch long, with a button that you can depress to make a clicking sound.

The trainer is Merope (pronounced my-ROPE-pee) Pavlides, who spends summers at her home on Smith Mountain Lake and the rest of the year in Baltimore. She dropped by the Roanoke Valley SPCA recently to teach a two-day class on clicker training for the shelter staff and volunteers.

"We're exploring all aspects of training; trying to be open-minded to all methods," said Faye Hicks, Lilly's owner and the animal behaviorist at the SPCA. She adopted Lilly from the shelter.

Hicks first met Pavlides two years ago, shortly after Hicks started working at the SPCA. Pavlides -- a certified pet dog trainer who has a dog training company, Compliant Canines LLC, in Maryland -- started volunteering for the Roanoke shelter in the summer, teaching clicker training classes and evaluating dogs for adoption.

Hicks said the SPCA is interested in clicker training because it teaches the shelter animals consistent behavior in a stressful environment.

Pavlides and her students walk through the runs and click and treat each animal that's quiet. If a dog is barking, they click and treat its neighbor, who's quiet. Then when the barking dog is silent, they click and treat it. Pavlides says it not only gives the dogs positive reinforcement of the desired behavior, but it also keeps the stress level down, which helps make the animals more adoptable.

Pavlides has been training shelter dogs for nearly 20 years. She says that in 1988, most trainers used choke chains and other adverse types of training. She found the results disappointing -- most of the learning wasn't long term and it created fear in some dogs. - more info