As many of you know, I have hopes that Cuba will earn his championship in conformation someday. It is my intent to pursue this goal with positive training, and California-based trainer Vicki Ronchette, author of Positive Training for Show Dogs has been one of my greatest motivators – both via her fantastic book and on Facebook as well! I’m very honored that Vicki’s joining us this week to share her crossover story – welcome, Vicki! Thank you for your support, encouragement, and for sharing your crossover story.
My Crossing Over Story
By Vicki Ronchette
In the late 80s I got my first dog as an adult. I grew up with dogs, but Boris, an adult, male Rottweiler was the first dog I had obtained on my own. I had wanted a Rottweiler since I was in high school, before anyone knew what they were actually and finally got one. He was a big, adolescent goof ball and a ton of work. I signed him up for classes at a local dog training club. Even though I wasn’t comfortable I agreed to allow them to put a pinch collar on him. They put it on my arm and showed me “it wasn’t that bad”; they put it on him and told me it really was a much better choice than the only other option they offered which was a choke collar. Huh. It DID seem better than that. I left that first night in tears with my hands raw and red from the leash pulling. I was so discouraged but I went back the following week. I was taught to give corrections (quick pops on the leash) and then hot dogs, corrections and then hot dogs. That is how Boris was trained. Looking back, I see that he was an incredibly forgiving and resilient dog and I was very lucky that he never retaliated for some of the nasty stuff I did to him.
Boris and I spent the next several years at the dog training club at least two nights a week. I became a backup and assistant trainer, I worked at the desk and I put a CD title and CGC on Boris. Not long after Boris came into my life I got a Chow Chow puppy named Kong. I trained Kong the same way, and actually got one or two legs towards his CD title (before losing him to my ex-husband in our divorce). I noticed really early on that Kong was very different from Boris. He was not nearly as excited about training which I, of course, blamed on his breed.
Over the years I continued to train (professionally and personally) and ventured into other breeds including my main breed which is Dachshunds. As I started training my Dachshunds more I noticed that they responded very differently than most of the other breeds I had worked with. While I did put obedience titles (as well as bench and working titles) on them; I stopped competing when I got to higher levels of training that I thought would require more force and corrections. When corrected physically, they seemed to sort of glaze over, stop moving and do nothing. Of course now I recognize that they were shut down, but at the time all I knew was that it didn’t seem right. I started to correct less, try to use less pressure and more treats.
At that point, I started to actively look for other ways to train. I got Karen Pryor’s Getting Started with Clicker Training and started that with one of my dogs. It was a really difficult concept for me to grasp. At the time, all of the trainers I knew were traditional trainers. When I asked about clicker training I was told that it was just another thing to hold and I was just going to make things harder on myself, so I stopped asking those people. Then, while working as a veterinary assistant I met and became friends with Colleen Pepper who also worked at the hospital. She began to challenge some of my beliefs and methods of training, thankfully, I liked her enough to listen and discuss it. She asked me to read The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson, so I did. I was upset and horrified by the book. Looking back, I believe I felt guilty and realized that what I had been taught to do wasn’t right. I told Colleen I hated the book. She gave me another book to read, this one by John Fisher. I actually really enjoyed that one and when I told Colleen she asked me to re-read The Culture Clash! I don’t know why, but I did and this time I was much more open to what I read. By this time, I had already been moving away from corrections in classes, trying to get people to use more food and changing the equipment that I was using and recommending. The seed had been planted and I was becoming more and more interested in learning more. I still didn’t know any positive reinforcement trainers, but I kept reading and looking.
Then, I had a new student sign up for one of my advanced dog training classes. That student was Dawn Bushong. Dawn had not done any beginning classes with me so I had no idea of her or her dog’s skill level. When she came to class I was really impressed with her dog and how well he was trained. We talked after class and she explained how she had clicker trained him herself at home using Morgan Spector’s book Clicker Training for Obedience.
Not long after that I made the decision that I wanted to learn to clicker train and I wanted to get a new dog to do that with. I bought an Australian Cattle Dog puppy and named him Billy who I committed to training with positive reinforcement methods instead of corrections. I asked Dawn to coach me and help me. He was the first dog that I completely clicker trained. He is the first really reliable dog I trained. I never had more fun training a dog. Since then, all of my dogs have been trained with positive reinforcement and clicker training. I have not looked back since.
It has been an amazing journey and a lot of work actually because I had so much learning to do. I am grateful to have become friends with many skilled and knowledgeable reinforcement trainers who supported my learning. It was difficult to learn all new methods but it was not difficult to stop using corrections. As I changed my training methods, my philosophies not only dog training but on living with and interacting with dogs and other animals changed dramatically, all for the better.