Dog’s Eye View: The dog trainer’s song
November 26, 2015
For some reason, the catchy melody and easy-to-remember words of this song have stayed with me since early childhood, when I watched television on our bulky black-and-white TV. Maybe the words just made sense to me.
The song is titled "Accentuate The Positive," and here are the words to the first verse: "Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative. and don't mess with Mr. In-between."
The words were written by Johnny Mercer, and the music was composed by Harold Arlen in 1944. The whole song goes on for many verses, each as clever and honest as the first. It's fun to look at some of our very famous song-and-dance. People singing this song and dancing to it, as well. Check it out.
What struck me about this first verse is that, in a nutshell, this is a "pocket reminder" of what positive reinforcement training is about. Without going into detail, it explains the general principles of teaching a new skill or just living with a dog.
Here's how I use these words:
• "Accentuate the positive" — Think in terms of catching your dog doing the right thing and rewarding (reinforcing) that behavior rather than waiting for him to be wrong and punishing him. Let his world be filled with, "Yes, that's right. Good boy. Here's a treat."
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• "Eliminate the negative" — In reward-based training, we try to focus on eliminating punishment meted out for unwanted behavior. It's better to interrupt a puppy when we catch him in the act of grabbing a sock off a chair by loudly clapping our hands and shouting, "Hey" Then, we can immediately redirect him to what's okay for him to have in his mouth and reward him for that.
• "Don't mess with Mr. In-between" — It's so helpful to be very clear about our expectations when we are raising a dog. We humans tend to use a lot of words and muddy up our communication with our dog. For example, I like to think any behavior is either OK with us or not OK. Keep it simple, be consistent and reinforce the behavior you want more of.
I have, on occasion, taught this song to individuals or group dog training class students. I usually have to sing it, which makes everyone laugh. That's OK — laughter facilitates learning. I stuck to these three statements, because it's just pretty easy to remember them. Singing helps.
I didn't include "Latch on to the affirmative" in the dog trainer's song version to make it easier to learn. But I believe this is an overall good approach to teaching or learning anything. Additionally, the original song is about how to get through hard times when all may seem lost.
A statement I read online said the song was also about an attitude of doing right, and that certainly applies to dog training.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with more than 30 years of experience.