How Force-Free Training Led Us to Our ‘Fur’-ever Friend 1

I started working with dogs from an early age, teaching basic behaviors and tricks. It wasn’t until I started volunteering with a local foundation that I got into more serious training. I was asked to work with dogs that had various behaviors that made them unadoptable. But the one thing that remained consistent in my approach was that I was always force free.

Force-free training is a method that seeks to do no harm, either physical or emotional. It is a hands-free technique. No fear, no pain and no intimidation is the mantra for anyone seeking to train their dog this way. It’s a reward-based approach that focuses on creating a partnership based on trust and mutual respect between human and canine. Force-free training builds strong bonds while teaching dogs how to navigate in this crazy human world. To be successful it takes time, patience, consistency and love.

When I first started working with dogs, I knew that to be successful I needed the dog to trust me. I needed the dog to want to be with me and to want to learn. I understood that to get them invested in training, I needed to find something to reward them with, for their cooperation and good behavior. We all need motivation—and what better thing is there for a dog, than chicken?

The first dog I was asked to help was a chow/schnauzer mix named Carter. He was difficult for the farm hands to handle and he was unadoptable due to his antisocial behaviors. I knew that in order to help Carter I needed him to trust me. I started with dog-led walks and car rides with French fries. No training. Just a getting-to-know-you period of fun. We then moved onto basic behaviors that I captured first, and then named. For example, when he sat, I said “sit” and rewarded him with a piece of chicken. After a while, he learned what sit meant after naturally doing the behavior, hearing the word and being rewarded. We moved onto harder behaviors such as wait, stay, down, leave it and back up. All behaviors that the farm hands needed him to understand so they could better handle him in his dog run. Behaviors that ultimately would help him be happier in the human-controlled world that he was living in.

Carter and I spent a few hours together every day. We became friends. After a month, the farm hands began to notice a difference in him. They said it was easier to get him out of his dog run, to feed and clean up after him. He was no longer lunging, growling and trying to bite. He learned what was expected of him. He was happier, too. Carter knew that people weren’t there to mistreat him. They were there to help him. About a month after his training success my family decided that he needed to be ours—because we would all miss him if he were to be adopted by anyone else. He had truly become the best dog ever!