...that is the question. I was recently asked how I taught Jackson to retrieve the dumbbell. Since I had been thinking about doing a post on my training philosophy at some point, this question seemed a good lead in.
Jackson is the first dog I have trained for competitive obedience, so please take my random thoughts on training with a grain of salt : ) Every dog is different and it's a journey to find training methods that work for your dog and for you. This is what I have learned - so far - about what works with my dog --- and, that's not to say that other methods may have worked as well.
I am not a purely positive trainer. I choose to use primarily positive reinforcers such as treats and praise to train behaviors. I lure - a lot - when first teaching a behavior. I also use corrections to extinguish behaviors I don't want and to reinforce the notion that he doesn't always have a 'choice.' I don't believe corrections have to be harsh - they only need to get the dog's attention and communicate to him that, 'this is not appropriate behavior, or that was the wrong decision.' I don't believe that ignoring bad behavior in my dog will make it go away, any more than I believe you should ignore bad behavior when raising children. And, I don't believe correcting my dog damages my relationship with him anymore than I think disciplining children damages your relationship with them. I think it gives them a clear picture of what your expectations are and what's acceptable behavior. Well, that's pretty much it in a nutshell - at least as of today. I'm sure my ideas on training will continue to undergo changes and adjustments with more experience, and more trials and errors!
All of which brings me to the question, "how did I train the retrieve?" I used the ear pinch method. I started out with putting the dumbbell in Jackson's mouth and having him hold it. I rewarded him for holding it and sometimes he would even take it from my hand. But most times he would choose not to take it. Now, I might have worked on this for a year or so and gotten him to take it on command (and I do know people who did work on it for months and were able to get their dogs to retrieve without pinching their ear), however, I am not that patient of a trainer, and at that time, had no experience with clicker training. We had one training session where we pinched his ear to get him to take the dumbbell. I think we only did it a couple times before he figured out what he needed to do. Today, Jackson has a reliable retrieve. I can't remember one time in the four or five years since we did the ear pinch, that he has refused to retrieve.
Would I use the same method with my next dog? I don't know. I've done some dumbbell work with Jolee, who has a totally different personality/temperament than Jackson and I've been using the clicker training method with her. It has been a lot of fun watching her learn that way and I hope to get back to working with her soon. I'll just have to see how far clicker training takes me.