Move over, Cirque du Soleil – you’re about to get some new competition.
Davis dog owners will teach their pets to perform tricks such as spinning and riding a skateboard in the Experimental College’s latest class, “Circus School for Dogs.”
Dr. Sophia Yin, pet columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and author of the book How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves, will lead the class, which will meet on Sundays from Jan. 31 to Feb. 14 in the Silo courtyard.
The class will utilize Yin’s highly acclaimed training methods, which focus on positive reinforcement to shape a dog’s behavior.
“It’s all about starting with behaviors we can get, and then shaping the behavior by rewarding behaviors that are closer and closer to what we want,” Yin said.
Yin received a Master’s degree in animal science at UC Davis. Since then, she has lectured in the animal science department and travels frequently to speak at animal training seminars and veterinary conferences around the country.
Anne Britt, professor in plant biology, took her Australian cattle dog, Sidney, to the Circus School last year.
Yin’s approach to training is different than other methods she has tried, Britt said.
“When you take training classes with the Davis Dog Training Club, it is pretty much about negative reinforcement,” she said. “On the first day, they’re fitted for a choke collar. But Dr. Yin is highly into positive reinforcement – the dogs are getting treated all the time.”
Britt said that training is difficult because dogs may not understand what you want them to do.
“The dog wants a treat, and it’s trying really hard to figure out what you’re trying to get it to do. They know they’re close and they try all different things to see if that’s what you want them to do.”
By the end of the class, Sidney had learned tricks such as “bang, you’re dead,” freezing and looking where Britt pointed her finger.
Britt said that after taking the class, she felt that she could teach Sidney to do other tricks on her own using Yin’s method.
Using her step-by-step method, many dogs can learn some of the easier tricks, like spinning, playing dead and jumping through a hoop after the first class.
Yin said that one of the most important things to remember when training your dog is that they don’t understand English.
“Don’t even bother giving them commands, because it’s just ‘blah, blah, blah,'” she said.
Dog training is an art, and people need to learn how to reward and move their bodies so the dog understands exactly what they want, Yin said. This method ensures that dogs are not forced into a position where they feel uncomfortable and understand what is being asked of them.
“For instance, if you are trying to train your dog to ride a skateboard, you don’t just put your dog on a skateboard and push the skateboard,” Yin said. “You can lure him with a treat to put one foot on the skateboard, and then train him that he doesn’t get a treat unless he puts two feet on the skateboard.”
Heidi Napier, a veterinarian, took all three of her dogs to Yin’s class, and is still training one of them to do tricks.
“He has learned to lay on his side, crawl on his belly, spin, sit up and to touch an object such as my hand with his paw,” she said in an e-mail interview.
Napier said the class has aided her veterinary career.
“Her methods have helped me as a vet to handle my patients with much less stress and fear and also to deal successfully with some behavioral problems in my own dogs.”
Britt recommends that dogs be comfortable around other dogs and have good manners on a leash before taking Yin’s class.
The Circus School is a fun activity for both dogs and humans, she said.
“The dogs very much enjoy it and you can teach them to do all kinds of different tricks,” Britt said.
For more information about the Circus School for Dogs, visit askdryin.com/circusschool.php.
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.