I’ve been having lots of fun this summer with my two dogs, my 11 year-old son and a Wednesday night “basic behavior and manners” training class at a local vet hospital (not mine). 

The trainer, one Dee Hoult, is smart, appropriate and positively inclined. I’ve learned new ways to teach the basics––without pulling or much correction at all. I don’t even think I’ve used the word “no” the entire time. “Off” and “leave it” are as far as I have to go now. “Sit,” “stay,” “come,” “down” and “up” are all under our belt by now. “Good dogs” are in abundance. And heel is happening without ever using the word. 

Sure, the treats help, as does the daily homework and the “nothing-in-life-is-free” methodology. But the tidbits are phased out by the end of every homework session and the sits come readily and treat-free now for everything from food bowl placement to walking out the door. 

We still have a long way to go, especially with the crate entry and car manners. Slumdog absolutely HATES loading into his crate, his vehicle etiquette is atrocious even with the seatbelt and the pop-ups from the sit and down position are still way to frequent. But we’re getting somewhere. Vincent is now far more responsive to my son’s commands and a formerly uncontrolled Slumdog is actually listening. Shocking!

But the interesting thing is not the actual success of training––that, we all know, works magic with simple [if frustrating] hard work. Instead, the eye-opener was the varied implementation of rewards in the case of each individual dog and owner. 

Sure, it’s easy to understand that some dogs are motivated by treats, others by toys and most by simple praise and basic love. But it’s not just about the dogs. It’s about the people, too. And people are interesting. 

The women? Lots of treats. And sometimes fluffy toys. The men? They love rope toys and gear (“gentle leaders” andfrontclip harnesses). And definitely the clickers. Our class seemed stratified into two such camps. Those with gear and tough toys. Those with treats and soft toys. Odd, right? 

Maybe not. But the clicker obsession evidenced by my son was most obvious to me. The way he picked it up with such perfect timing. In fact, I sucked at making the sound at the exact right moment while he never missed a beat. All week, he could not be parted from his clicker. 

Men and their tools. Women and their nurturing. I so hate to do this again to you so soon after the post on men and cats, but God, how fast these boy/girl differences seem to hold. Even at so young an age. Or maybe it's just a personality thing and my class just happens to divide along chromosomal party lines. Either way it seems the only thing that invariably unites us is the desire to praise...and the adoration, of course. 

PS: A sincere thank you for the photo goes to Ellen Finch, whose hand and pup are pictured. Here's the original link on Wikipedia, which happens to offer an excellent description of clicker training for those who have no experience with this method.