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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Joyful Training

I think that most dogs have a wealth of joy inside them, even the ones who go through rough patches in their lives, like Shyla did early in her life.

I've been modeling my recent training after Susan Garrett's tenets of training. She uses the word "joy" more often in a training book than anyone else. She urges us all to inject more joy into our dogs' lives and to be a source of joy for our dogs. As hard as it might be for a traditional trainer to imagine, Susan Garrett urges us to make our dog training joyful.

Garrett talks about play almost as much as she talks about the mechanics of training. The idea is that through play, a person can become a fountain of joy for a dog. However, the dog must earn access to that play through their behavior.
For example, if your dog will sit and wait patiently when you ask them to like in the photo above, then you will playing a rousing game of fetch or tug with them to reward them.

I think that all the playing that I've done with Shyla over the past several months has made our bond much stronger. Each day during our snow bike ride, we stop several times for short training sessions. I start by getting Shyla excited about training with a few rousing training games that she loves.

Then I get "serious" and ask her for certain behaviors that help me to keep control over her when she's off-leash. For example, we are currently working on her stopping and sitting in mid-fetch if I call out "sit". If she is successful, she gets an incredible play session afterwards that makes her more likely to continue to listen to me in the future.

I think that a wonderful side effect to this kind of training is that it makes me happier. I love playing with Shyla. "Injecting joy into her life" actually injects joy into my life too. The more we do this kind of training, the better my frame of mind for interacting with Shyla, even when she does things that I don't like. I tend to see her mistakes as being my training mistakes rather than her being "bad".
This self-motivated phase of learning more about animal training has been incredibly fun so far. And I haven't even mentioned our training in "nosework" yet. I'm doing that with both dogs, and it's so fun. More about that later!


  1. I love this post so much! It's so important that dogs enjoy their training and that it's fun. I wish more people made sure their dogs were joyful. <3

  2. I know many people don't like him, but I'm a big Cesar Milan fan. He says that we have to be the most FUN thing in our dog's lives. Kinda the same thing...Can you recommend a Susan Garrett book? I hope to be doing more training games with Otto now that he's an "only dog."

  3. I love this! I love Garret's work. Training is the most joyful time of day for my dogs.

  4. What a great philosophy for training dogs. I can tell that Shyla really enjoys your time together.

  5. Dear KB, I hope you, runner and the pups had a great Christmas! I love this training technique or lifestyle! Our trainer had a yellow lab that she would say Drop to and he would immediately go to a down positio( he lived in Estes and maybe it was important because of the wildlife too; I never thought I would be able to teach Hunter that but he got it. I never saw the rest of the responses on FB about insecure dogs being targets by aggressive Alpha dogs.m
    You are such a wealth of information and I'm thankful for you friend.
    May this New Year be filled with health, joy, love, laughter and play for all of you!

  6. Wonderful training techniques, and your last photo, perfect silhouette for the end of 2015.Love that hint of sunshine behind her head.

  7. The last picture is incredible and I love reading about your training methods.

    Anne and Ziggy

  8. I have heard so many wonderful things about Susan Garrett's training!

  9. I've watched many Susan Garrett videos online in the past couple of years when trying to improve Piper's quality of life (and my own). I'm not a good trainer, and physically cannot do a lot of things that would probably make training a lot more fun. But even Garrett's very low-key "It's Yer Choice" game is great for Piper, who always anticipates and has a hard time with impulse control.We play that simple little game often, and Piper always looks happy, even while she's practicing self-control and paying attention - it's a little miracle :)

  10. We've said it before and we will say it again - you and Shyla are the most perfect team ever, KB!

  11. I love the idea of bringing joy into training and using play as a reward. Ruby likes to follow me everywhere - I think she is still afraid of being left. I have been working on having her stay and then leaving the room. This is hard for her because of her fear, but she is slowing getting it and will now stay a few minutes in another room by herself.

    Wishing you a healthy, happy, and fun 2016!

  12. We can actually see joy in those beautiful Shyla eyes!

  13. I love to hear you are both enjoying your training sessions. And the lighting in these photos is simply stunning.

    Happy New Year! :)

  14. This is so good. They bring us so much joy and are joyful animals!!

  15. We must really look into this! Pugs are sooo food motivated that it can cause issues when the food disappears so I am trying to put more fun in my training with Mabel. I am looking forward to a fresh start in 2016. Her health issues caused us to take a break from classes just before the CGC test.
    Here is to a joyful new year
    Mr Bailey, Hazel & Mabel

  16. Training could be exciting and rewarding cause you get treats
    Lily & Edward

  17. Actually "joy training" is successful for children, too! Love the first photo!

  18. Thankyou, KB. This is very helpful. I looove dog training too, but I know I can be too serious about it, for other humans and maybe the dogs too. I looove playing with dogs too, so I really should learn to combine them, to the benefit of all of us. I suspect you are right about the wealth of joy in all dogs, I've seen it too. I will look up Susan Garrett, thankyou!

  19. KB,
    We are so happy that Susan Garrett and your life has crossed paths..
    Her tips on creating joy certainly has helped Shyla,, because she is always overjoyed! You and Shyla have come a long ways!
    Good job!

  20. I'm curious whether you are doing Garrett's online course that you have to sign up for a year or are using one of her books? I could use a training group to keep me accountable as I struggle for finding time to be consistent in training but I was afraid I'd spend the money and still not have the time. Yesterday, with a bit of fresh powder snow, Java was full of energy on our walk so when I got to a cemetery we walk through, I let her off leash. She was so funny with her exuberance, running out and running back and bouncing around. I wish I could do the same with Latte. With her, we have a fetch game we play in the house. She has a funny loop she does over the bed and then under when she gets the toy before bringing it back. Good thing I don't care about damage to my floors.


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