On a recent Monday evening, Eileen Hanson gives gentle instructions to a few dog owners, from the young to the white-haired, as they walk a giant circle with their canines, small as a Chihuahua and boisterous as the sole Labrador.

At her Clayton farm, there are stacks of hay bales, dog agility training implements, and other animals -- from roosters to pigeons, sheep and goats -- in addition to three penned border collies barking at the new guests.

It is a beginning dog obedience class, which she says with consistent body language and commands, will solidify a bond and a recognizable tone for the canine to remain sitting, and dissuade begging at the dinner table or coming unglued by an unknown visitor at the front door.

"You can say apples or apricots, as long as you and your dog share the commands," she tells the group, reinforcing the importance of imparting an abundance of praise to reinforce the notion that what they're doing is fun.

She offers tips for canine rewards: a tummy scratch, massaging between the shoulder blades, in lieu of food.

Hanson's instinctual sense of the different dogs' behaviors and motivations that will dictate training methods is evident. She knows the McNab cattle dog -- "bred for its brains" -- is antsy about other dogs and needs more socialization, while another of a similar breed is demonstrating boredom with its incessant pacing and chewing.


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"She likes to get their number," says Auben Winters of Hanson's intrinsic urge to tap into a dog's specific wiring -- and determine what will motivate, always drawn to the more "spirited" dogs that pose a positive disciplinary challenge.

"As (the dog) gets calmer, you get glimmers of what he really knows," Hanson says.

Seven years ago, Hanson diagnosed what had ailed Winters' Australian cattle dog Jersey, then a puppy, who'd displayed aggressive behavior after a traumatic experience. The award-winning dog was afraid of other dogs, but soon after thrived in agility competition, which offered that extra canine socialization.

Recently, Hanson was able to deduce that 9-month-old Charlie, another cattle dog, was a good match for Winters, before Winters' own ambivalence about their pairing had quelled.

For Hanson, it's the joy in watching her human students bond with their dog -- and a heavy dose of patience, as both handler and canine have different learning speeds, with the dogs wired to please tending to respond to consistent cues more quickly.

"Obedience is not magic dust. You have to work at it," she says.

Hanson cautions that an undesired behavior can take as long or even longer to overcome than the length of time it has been occurring.

"The dog needs the demand. The dog doesn't understand being nagged," Hanson adds, noting that a seemingly "difficult dog" can be receiving mixed signals from its owner.

She believes 90 percent of dogs are trainable, while those odds are not necessarily the same for their owners.

"In beginning obedience, I'm teaching the handler. The dog just comes along for the ride," she says.

Hanson -- with more than 40 years of training under her belt since her grammar school days and her devoted Sheltie named Mitzie, whom she describes as "one of the most stubborn dogs you'd ever want to meet" -- has learned a few truths as she gets into the dogs' heads to figure out what motivates.

Praise is paramount. Every dog is different, and requires constant tweaking in its training regimen. And, "a dog is not a person in a heavy coat," she says.

With 95 percent of dogs having descended from wolves, there is a corresponding pack mentality with the owner adopting the alpha role, insisting on limits, teaching that there's a time and a place, and having consistent rules of conduct.

"The more you demand of your dog; the more they'll give you," Hanson says.

IF YOU GO
WHAT: Puppy/beginning obedience training (demonstration and Q&A only; do not bring dogs)
WHEN: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 2
WHERE: Clayton Library, 6125 Clayton Road
COST: Free
INFORMATION/REGISTRATION: 925-673-0659 or visit www.claytonlibrary.org