BEST SCHOOL FOR DOGS (1998)
For the past 176 dog years (since 1958), Ruth Foster has trained dogs in one capacity or another. She's the associate director of the University of Minnesota's Center to Study Human Animal Relationships and Environments, a teacher, and a judge for the American Kennel Club, and until recently she served as director of training at the Twin Cities Obedience Training Club--which, not surprisingly, she considers the best dog school in town. (A beginner course runs nine weeks and costs $75; preregistration is required.) But don't take her word for it. Anyone shopping for an obedience school should visit several centers first, she says. What do you look for? "See if the dogs act--I don't want to say happy, but content, and if the owners are pleased with what they're doing." It's hard to imagine that being the case at the old-fashioned boot-camp-style schools whose method--devised, where else, in Germany--used negative reinforcement (read: choke collars) to make dogs bend to human will. At schools like the Twin Cities Obedience Training Club, that technique has been replaced by what Foster calls a "motivational" method: "Instead of killing the dog by choking it," she says, "the dog does what you want and you reward it." The best reward? Food. Man's best friend, indeed.