Training Tips From the 1950’s

Just when I thought I was tired of Facebook, during the holidays a few months ago, Facebook gave me a great reinforcer.

LassieTrick1-1Through the miracle of the internet and social media, I found a friend who lived next door to me when we were 5-years old. Around Christmas time, I wrote to her and told her that even though my family had moved to another state, I always remembered her. And I told her that I remembered her dad, Mr. Raia. He was a kind, wonderful man. Even though he had his own children, he always made sure he gave me a Christmas gift when I was a child.

“You won’t believe this,” I wrote to my friend, “but I still have the present your dad gave me when we were 5 years old.”  Back then, at the ripe old age of five, we had a family dog, but I certainly had no well-formed plans for a dog-related career. Maybe Mr. Raia’s gift was a premonition.

LassieRempel1 copyMr. Raia gave me a dog training kit in a box, complete with tiny agility equipment that was to be used for training a 6-inch tall plastic Lassie. Over the years, a myriad of toys and dolls came and went, but for some reason, I always kept this gift.

After I located my childhood friend, I went to the closet, pulled the toy from the box where it had been stored for decades, and for the first time ever, looked at this toy through the eyes of a dog trainer and animal behaviorist.

LassieTrick2In the box is a booklet on how to train your dog. It was written in the 1950’s by Rudd Weatherwax, Lassie’s trainer. Because positive reinforcement training didn’t become popular until many years later, I expected a heavy dose of advice about the need for corrections in training.  While there were certainly trainers at that time giving out correction based advice, here are 10 tips from Rudd Weatherwax (circa the 1950’s) that may surprise you. Tip #6 shows evidence of food rewards in training.

1. Train on a regular schedule.

2. Keep training sessions short-not over 15 minutes.

3. Have one person teach the dog initially; gradually involve other family members.

4. Work in quiet, non-distracting surroundings.

5. Be consistent (same tone, etc.) when giving the dog commands (such as, “Sit.”)

6. Encourage your dog when he performs correctly by petting him, speaking in a friendly tone, and rewarding him with a tidbit.

7. Don’t rush training, have patience.

8. Teach one trick or skill at a time. As you teach new ones, review what the dog has already learned.

9. If your dog is not feeling well or is out of sorts, give him a vacation from training.

10. Never shout at or strike your dog. Your patience, understanding and kindness will be rewarded.

By the way, I called and spoke to 93-year old Mr. Raia on the phone. He was delighted that I still had his gift, and we ended the call with him saying he may have had an influence on my career.  Maybe so, Mr. Raia, maybe so.

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About Canine Good Citizen

AKC Canine Good Citizen Director, Author of the AKC's official CGC book, "CITIZEN CANINE"
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6 Responses to Training Tips From the 1950’s

  1. Bob says:

    This just made me smile so much….Thanks for the memories and for all you do for the world family of dogs

  2. Janet Mines Krings says:

    Mary I LOVED this post! I have found that many people have firmly established life interests by a very young age–even as young as age 4 or 5. And many pursue those as a career or serious hobby later on. There was a reason you were given this gift, and a reason you held onto it all these years. It is so reassuring to me that the dogs we knew as Lassie were treated well during training; it sounds like they had many years of very practical experience to pass along. I suspect the current Weatherwax family would get a big kick out of reading this post, too, and knowing perhaps how this influenced you in your budding career!

  3. Lucy G. says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. It made my day.

  4. Peter G says:

    This is a charming story, indicating the respect and love older people often have for children and animals.

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