Guest column by Bill Ritchey —
RAYMOND – It was said by Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States, “If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.”
In agreement with President Wilson is Raymond resident, Betty Fisher, an accomplished dog trainer and expert in obedience of “hard to train” breeds.
Every Wednesday, you’ll find a small group of area residents and their pack of dogs, gathered at Raymond Community Park, where they are the recipients of gratuitous training and encouragement from the Raymond expert.
On a brisk morning, Fisher arrived at the park with two of her own dogs, Larri (short for Larrikan), a mischievous five year old prize winning bulldog, and “Eighty,” a poised four year old Newfoundland female. Each week, she assembles a course; varied as to obstacles and commands the dogs and their handlers must complete.
It is a diverse gathering of dogs, from petite and pampered purebreds to common ranch hounds and mutts. The dog owners are as varied as their animals; exhibiting various levels of patience and confidence as master and dog are each put through the paces.
Fisher’s love for dogs began with a Boston terrier/bulldog cross at age six. By her twenties, she knew she wanted to be involved in obedience competition, choosing bulldogs for looks and temperament. Her early training of the bulldog brought her to a quick appreciation for the breed’s hardheadedness. Betty was told over and over it was impossible to train a bulldog in obedience. Through several years of determined effort by trial and error, she found the methods to which her bulldog and other independent breeds would respond. After winning obedience titles with independent temperament dogs, she had earned a reputation as “trainer of the untrainable.”
Fisher, is also a published author of two books. In her book “So Your Dog’s Not Lassie — Tips for Training Difficult Dogs and Independent Breeds,” she states dog breeds thought of as “hard to train” include sporting, working, hunting, and herding dogs, and include hounds and terriers.
Fisher describes bulldogs as one of the brightest breeds. They were bred for the sport of bull baiting, events commonly held in English towns in the 1600s. Bulldogs were set loose upon a tethered bull, repeatedly. Bulldogs would jump at the bull’s snout, biting it, until it fell and became immobile.
Fisher emphasizes it is not necessarily a lack of intelligence that makes a dog tough to train, but trainability. Dogs may be associated with personality traits similar to humans: determination, independence, high or low energy levels.
Fisher says independence is probably the most common trait in hard-to-train dogs. The independent dog can take us or leave us.
One important aspect of training your independent dog is stimulation, or lack thereof. Fisher explains that all too often such dogs end up ignored, left in the backyard to dig, or relinquished to the pound because of the owner’s frustration. Stimulation of the brain, Fisher says, is important for a healthy mind and brain growth, whether man or dog.
At the park, Fisher is observed wearing an apron, full of dog treats. She reminds handlers the most common mistake in training is not offering enough rewards or praise.
To the handler seen not giving out edible rewards, Fisher is quick to ask, “Where are your treats?” Fisher also says, “People tell their dogs what’s wrong, not what’s right.”
Adapted from marine mammal training, Fisher uses food rewards as the “paycheck” for the desired behavior.
“Treats are a communication bridge. Communicate what you want and give your dog a reason to come to you,” Fisher explains. She believes in offering frequent rewards with edible treats and praise. She also says it is important for dogs to make their handlers happy, particularly with dogs that were bred to work for man.
In addition to teaching classes, and publishing two books, Fisher has spent much of her “dog career” in competitive events. She and her dogs have earned over fifty titles throughout her competitive career. Larri, her bulldog, earned first place in “Beginning Novice” at the Bulldog Club of America trial in Ventura, July 2014.
“Larri is top of the scale, likes attention and loves being the star,” says Fisher, as Larri stands proudly next to his master, joining in the conversation with his frequent “snorts” and “grunts,” projecting almost a smug grin.
Fisher describes how over the years, there has been much growth in types of competitive events, from confirmation and obedience to newer events such as rally, agility, tracking and carting, to name a few. She says there is a lot more encouragement of novice handlers and their dogs to join shows and competition, and to make the experience enjoyable.
Fisher also has thirty years of canine judging experience. She devotes more time judging than competing now, traveling nationally and internationally. She also gives seminars in her travels.
When not traveling, Fisher volunteers her time with 4H-ers in Raymond. She meets with the eager young handlers two to three times a month, teaching obedience and introducing rally competition.
Fisher rounds out her dog-loving life by fostering, and supporting Eastern Madera County SPCA. She encourages public participation in the Oakminster Dog Show, hosted every April by EMC SPCA.
So should you find yourself with that independent dog at the end of your leash, you can find Betty Fisher and her group at Raymond Community Park on Wednesday’s at 10 a.m. Warning: don’t forget the treats!