Guest Post: My Journey to Crossing Over

20131014-144229.jpgIn Spring of 2013 I was contacted by a fellow trainer who had a few questions for me. I soon learned that she was also in her crossing over transition and we’ve helped each other grow in different ways. She is now my assistant moderator on the “Let’s Talk About Positive Reinforcement Training” Facebook group and has edited my ebook The Crossover Trainer’s Guide to the Theories and Applications of Positive Reinforcement Based Training. Her name is Lisa White and she owns and operates The Dog Trainer in Barbados. She is now a member of the PPG, APDT, and teaches the C.L.A.S.S. curriculum material to her students. In the spring, we will be studying together to get our CPDT-KA. Here’s her story:

My Journey To Crossing Over by Lisa White

Before I can tell you where my journey has taken me, I have to tell you where I have come from.

I live on a tiny island in the Caribbean called Barbados (where the pop star Rihanna is from) only 166 square miles. Dogs are considered, for the most part, dirty and kept outside. Like most children, I always loved dogs and my earliest memory of my first dog was Bonnie, a little black and tan, short haired dog with pricked ears and bulgy eyes, what I would call a Bajan Chihuahua. Bonnie would sleep on our front patio, curled up on a chair and was so excited to see me on a morning and when I came home from school. I was maybe 6 years old and already I was teaching her to sit and jump over makeshift jumps and she was so good at it.

I had lots of dogs growing up, but my first dog that I ever did formal training with was Tango, a brindle Great Dane / Mutt, she wasn’t the prettiest dog but she was sweet and devoted to me. 26 years ago, I took her to the local dog training club back when I was 19 yrs old (jeez 1987 was a loooooooong time ago). This club was in existence for many years before and still successfully operates today, I took Tango to their Special Beginner’s Group Training Class (basic obedience training) using the old traditional methods, it was all that was known back then. The dogs had to be 6 months and older and we all used a choke collar made from a nylon material, since it was “gentler” on the dogs’ necks. The course was 12 weeks, every Sunday morning from 10 to 11am. Tango was a clever dog and learnt quickly with the minimum of corrections (jerk and release).

When the course was finished, I was asked to be an Assistant Trainer, since my handling of dogs was so good. I was an assistant for a couple more courses, and then became a trainer for the club. Back then and I believe even now, there was no formal sit down classes with the experienced trainers to discuss training and how it was supposed to be taught, we all learnt through trial and error and by using the methods we were taught when we trained our own dogs. As a traditional trainer, I’ve jerked on the leash for corrections, with the severity depending on the dog, I’ve strung up aggressive dogs; I’ve even managed to get dogs shooting back towards me in midair when they lunged at another dog. I’ve used my hands to give them a little smack when necessary, given little taps with my foot in their rumps to get their attention, held their muzzles, pinned them to the ground and growled back at them, showing them who the boss was, being the pack leader.

Am I mortified or horrified by what I’ve done in the past? Actually no, it was all we knew back then, and followed the Barbadian way of disciplining children – if you did something wrong you were corrected by scolding and lashes. However I AM sorry, knowing what I do now. “I did then what I knew how to do. Now I know better I do better – reward based, positive reinforcement training.”

In 1999, I wanted to learn a better method and I did. I went to Tarheel Canine Training in North Carolina to do Obedience and Personal Protection Training and I enjoyed every moment of it. It was here that I learnt what truly motivates dogs ie food and getting that bite, instead of forcing them into position, you just simply Lured and Rewarded them, when they obeyed. It was great! No sweating, no shoving, no dragging, no pushing them into position. I was there for 3 months, we did the theory in the morning and trained the dogs who were in for Board and Training, so I trained lots of different breeds of dogs, some I had only seen in books or movies. I also trained, mainly German Shepherds & Malinois and I had a blast doing the Personal Protection work and taught dogs to search for drugs for the Police Force.

When I came back to the island and I introduced the Lure & Reward Methods, my competitors said I bribed dogs and that the dogs would not obey if I didn’t have food. Of course, none of these trainers even knew about learning theory, never trained with me, nor knew about phasing out foods. What I find encouraging, is that most of the other trainers are now using food in their training, but still with corrections. But I was happy since dogs I trained, learnt quicker and so much easier, it was more fun and less stress. I was a “balanced trainer” using the L&R methods to teach commands, and after the dog “learnt” the commands and chose not to obey, only then was leash corrections used.

I started my dog training business in 1999 – FireStorm Inc Good Dog Training (named after my Ridgeback Fire and my Boxer Storm, who I had shown and done obedience with. Life went on, I gave birth to a son in 2002 and there was just no way that I could leave him, to travel overseas to do any other courses and so I got stuck in a rut. I didn’t even have time to train my own dogs except for when I first came back and retrained my Ridgeback who was 8 yrs old at the time, but she got her Companion Dog Title in one year (the club only had 3 courses in a year, so at the end of each course there was a test), and she was always in the top three placing. Not bad for an old dog and one who was nervous outside of home, she proved that you CAN teach old dog new tricks.

Because of a client Pam and her Jack Russell Sam, I had to find new ways of training. Although we tried to teach Sam using the Lure & Reward methods, he still was a maniac, and would pull on the leash, constantly. The corrections didn’t work either. It was only this year, March 2013, that I discovered other Facebook Groups. I found so many websites and with my head spinning from too much choice dilemma, I finally took a course with Renea Dahms of Pawsitively Unleashed in Wisconsin. Although I’ve used a clicker in the past, I never used it exclusively or for every client, so I had to relearn about the clicker all over again. The hardest part was NOT saying no, not making any corrections. I remember telling Renea about how hard it was to be quiet and she jokingly told me to put duct tape over my mouth. (lol) I am so grateful to Renea for being my mentor and introducing me to this new way of training.

During these months, I have met so many wonderful people online who have inspired and encouraged me – Abby Harrison Melott of Sit Dog Stay in Houston, who so kindly sent me down lots of Dr Ian Dunbar’s DVDs and books by Dr Sophia Yin, Karen Pryor and Patricia McConnell – FREE OF COST!!! Cindy Ludwig of Canine Connection LLC (now based in Missouri), Mary Wilson Blanton of 2 Dog Trail Positive Dog Training in Colorado, Jennifer Shryock of Family Paws North Carolina, Shelly Volshe of Nevada, Rise VanFleet of PA and of course Ines Gaschot are just some of the wonderful people answered so many of my endless questions. I am also so lucky, I won the 2013 APDT Business Makeover and Gina Phairas & Veronica Boutelle of Dogtec have been fantastic!!! They’ve helped me rebrand and market my business. OMD, I know famous people. *star struck*

I’m still crossing over, still learning, I still fall back on old habits, but after all, I’ve been using the old methods for donkey years. A lot of the time I feel completely lost and stupid for asking dumb questions, but it’s like my world has turned upside down, and everything I knew before is completely wrong.

Ideally, I’d love to be a force free trainer, because I think it will help me become a better person, a better mother and trainer but don’t know if I can ever reach those lofty goals, however, I’ll keep an open mind, listen, learn and try hard to BE the best I can be. On my journey to crossing over, I currently studying to take the CPDT – KA exam in March next year, and will continue to take whatever courses I can, read lots and keep bugging my new friends with lots of questions.

But clicker training IS wonderful!!! I train using the clicker and lure & reward methods exclusively now ie NO corrections and when I see the response of the dogs, how fast they learn, how quick and easy, and everyone is having fun, seeing the amazement on their owners’ faces, I KNOW I’m on the right track.