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Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: 'Mirror' approach reflects important role of humans in dog training

August 23. 2014 7:26PM

I'm always curious when I hear about a new dog-training "method," wondering if perhaps there is something new under the sun. When I was writing my book, "The Thinking Dog," about "clicker" or "marker" training, I thought a lot about the various methods of training that I had either tried or read about. There are hundreds of dog-training books in publication and hundreds more that are out of print. Every book is written by someone who believes his or her approach is different (and better) in some way.

In pondering the different "methods" of training, I realized that virtually every training approach falls into three categories, or a combination of the three: luring (using a food lure to induce behavior), compulsion (using physical manipulation) and shaping (providing information and reinforcement to move the dog's behavior toward the desired end).

I was intrigued when I first saw the YouTube videos made by a group of dog trainers in Hungary.

The videos are scenarios of dogs working cooperatively to decorate a Christmas tree in the first, and having a fun day at the beach in the second.

These well-trained dogs of many different breeds demonstrate a high degree of training with multiple behaviors. The description of the videos referred to their training approach as the "Mirror Method."

I tried to learn more about this method, but everything I found on the Internet was in Hungarian, so I couldn't learn more about it.

As a clicker trainer, it was pretty clear that they used clicker training, but I wanted to know if they knew something new - was there something they were doing that no one else had thought of?

Then I came upon an article from The Bark magazine interviewing their head trainer - in English.

Just as I had thought, the approach these trainers use is clicker training, but that is only one of the three elements of the Mirror Method - and I was really pleased to learn that their philosophy is the same as ours!

The other two parts of the method are to look at ourselves - the human part of the partnership and what they refer to as "lifestyle."

Looking at ourselves is why they use the term "mirror." Dogs reflect what we teach them and how we behave toward them.

If our dogs' behavior isn't what we want it to be, examine why by looking at what we are doing (or not doing). It is our responsibility to teach our dogs, and it is our behavior and body language that affects how our dogs behave. It isn't about blame - it's not the owner's fault if he or she doesn't understand how their behavior affects the dog.

However it is the owner's responsibility to remedy the situation through seeking training and information.And finally, there is "lifestyle."

This is more than just how the dog is housed and kept. Lifestyle includes giving your dog an outlet for his or her instincts - letting the dog be a dog. This can be as simple as taking your dog for a daily walk, allowing him or her to sniff and investigate the environment.

And of course, it includes training so that your dog can be part of your life - going places and being included in family activities. The result - like the dogs in the Hungarian videos - is your dog might help you decorate the Christmas tree or enjoy a wonderful day at the beach.

Gail Fisher, a certified dog behavior consultant and author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic for this column, email or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.

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