Eddie Pickering with Lucky, the dog that inspired him to become a trainer.
Millions of people around the world laughed loudly as they read Marley and Me. Who couldn’t help but chuckle as the high-strung puppy ripped open couch cushions, howled during thunderstorms, and gobbled down anything in sight, including a gold necklace?
Thankfully, Marley’s owners kept her. Sadly, millions of other disobedient dogs don’t have such good fortune. According to the Humane Society of the United States, an estimated 6 to 8 million cats and dogs enter shelters each year.
“One-third of the dogs in shelters are there because their owners didn’t take the time to train them,” says Eddie Pickering, owner of EddieK9 in Fairfield (www. eddiek9.com). Eddie offers sound advice for those with a loving dog needing obedience training. “You will never effectively train a dog until you have established yourself as pack leader,” Eddie says. “The dog must respect you in order to get their full cooperation.”
He explains that wolves and other wild dogs live in packs and follow a pack leader. Domesticated dogs need their owners to take this role in order to feel protected and thus respect them.
Becoming sensitized to your dog’s needs is another condition of successful obedience training. Just by looking into a dog’s eyes a person should be able to tell how the dog feels—angry, sad, happy—and what he wants—maybe a treat, to go outside, or affection.
A Natural Connection
From a young age Eddie understood dogs’ needs. “Very early on I learned to communicate with them,” he says. “No matter what type of dog—pit bull or whatever size I ran into—I never feared them and they didn’t fear me. I just naturally understood dogs.”
As a child, he trained his first dog, a fox terrier, by reading books. Over the years he trained several of his own and his friends’ dogs.
Dog training professionally didn’t occur to him until later in life. He began his career by joining the Army and serving as a Green Beret in Vietnam. In the 1990s he took to the road for 17 years as a professional truck driver. This career ended one day when his dog Lucky refused to jump into the truck. “I had to pick him up to get him to go in,” he says. “When I saw how sick of it he was, I realized I was also ready to quit.”
He recognized the passion he had for working with dogs and investigated dog training academies. “I wanted to attend the best of the best,” he says, and he chose the Triple Crown Dog Academy in Hutto, Texas. Eddie felt they had the most up-to-date training techniques based on the latest behavioral research. They also never allowed any dog to be harmed.
How He Works
In a training session with a peppy Australian Shepherd named Zoe, Eddie demonstrates his training techniques. Zoe is indiscriminate about jumping with muddy paws on people wearing white linen suits, or nearly toppling over elderly people with her enthusiastic greeting.
Eddie meets with Zoe’s owner, Wendi Vessey, and first asks for a commitment to keep the dog under control by using a leash while training. Zoe regularly runs off-leash on the trail beside the house. Wendi and her husband, Steve, agree.
Then Eddie explains the need to be pack leader. Right now Zoe doesn’t see Wendi as a pack leader. Dogs, like wolves, greet each other with jumping and licking. Similarly, dogs greet humans with jumping to communicate.
Zoe will obey Wendi’s commands once she gets something out of it: treats or praise. In conjunction with Eddie’s reward system of treats, he also employs clicker training, using a small tin object that makes a clicking sound. The dog associates the clicker with correct behavior and knows it will get a reward. When Zoe sits, she hears the clicker and gets a treat.
But giving Zoe only praise is not enough to change her jumping habit. She also needs to be corrected. Eddie elaborates further, explaining that correction is a vital part of establishing dominance over Zoe. On the ground are a variety of correction tools: a spray bottle with water, a soda can with pennies, a pinch collar, a remote collar, and a choke collar.
We take Zoe into the road. Whenever she follows Wendi’s command to sit, Wendi clicks and gives Zoe a treat. She repeats this process for several minutes until Zoe understands the positive reinforcement associated with sitting. Then we introduce her to others to learn the correct manner of greeting them.
When Kai (Wendi and Steve’s son) arrives home from school, Zoe goes over and jumps on him in greeting. Wendi uses the correction: a can of pennies. Whenever she shakes the can, the dog cringes and walks away. Then she comes back and sits, receiving both a click and then a treat.
Eddie leaves Wendi with the instructions to take Zoe out twice a day for 15 minutes of the click-treat program. He also gives her a choker collar to use with the leash. This serves as the correction; whenever Zoe lunges to jump, the collar gently pricks her. After feeling the correction, she sits and gets clicked-treated.
Once Zoe goes through this training for about three days, Eddie tells Wendi to find other neighbors for Zoe to greet and choose reward or correction. “It takes a village to train a dog,” Eddie laughs. By follwing the instructions consistently for a week or two, Eddie promises, Zoe will be trained.
Two weeks later, when Eddie returns, Zoe runs to Eddie and sits. Because of the Vesseys’ busy schedule, which includes building a house, they don’t have as much time to train Zoe as they’d like. She still needs a bit more time to completely extinguish her jumping behavior when strangers arrive. However, Eddie notices how much she’s improved since that first day.
“Zoe is doing better than before the training,” Wendi confirms. “She does better the more attention is given to her and the training.”
Turning Dogs Around
Some dog owners prefer to have a trainer do all of the work. Emily and Bryan Kelly chose to have Eddie train their dog, Finn, to keep him from chasing rabbits. Using his correction-reward method, says Emily, “he got Finn to a point where he sits in a place for ten minutes outside without moving, even with a bunny hopping by!”
Similarly, Sandra and Doug Adams had Eddie train their new poodle puppy. “Eddie turned our relationship with our new puppy from being somewhat of a nightmare into a wonderful working situation,” Sandra says.
If Marley finally graduated obedience class (after being thrown out of his first obedience course), almost any dog can become a dream pet. Don’t give up. Find a good trainer to help you.