Vicki Cooper-Springer, owner of Circle Star Pet Resort in Murchison, said she saw dogs trained in the new Mirror Method do “amazing things” on viral YouTube videos she watched on the Internet.
Ms. Cooper-Springer was so impressed that she not only researched the Mirror Method of dog training, but began trying to reach the small group doing the training in Hungary, where it originated.
With help from the Hungarian consulate in Houston, she eventually made contact and went to Hungary to train for a month. She saw dogs stay in cars on a city square in Budapest until people gave the command to come out, and she saw dogs cross the street off-leash.
“It blew my mind how happily these dogs worked with these people; I wanted to bring that to the United States,” Ms. Cooper-Springer said.
Eventually she persuaded a co-founder of the Mirror Method, Nora Vamosi-Nagy, to obtain a visa and come here to start Mirror Method classes in Athens and then expanded to Tyler.
“I love the off-leash component,” Ms. Cooper-Springer said, and that the dogs are so well socialized and have a much improved life.
The Mirror Method works with every kind of dog, she said — old, young, big, small, male, female.
“Here in America, mostly dogs are either relegated to the back yard or they are in the house lying on the sofa and they are bored to tears,” she said.
“The reason I wanted to bring the Mirror Method here is because it helps people, but, most importantly, it helps animals have a satisfying life.”
Dogs trained in the Mirror Method want to be with and enjoy their owner who can be relaxed with their dog and have total control off-leash with no force, Ms. Cooper-Springer said. That contrasts to the way many dog owners control their dog by jerking or yanking the leash and reprimanding.
Off-leash dogs trained in the Mirror Method won’t take off and run away, she said, because, “You are using positive reinforcement to get your dog to do the things that you want it to do.”
It is called the Mirror Method because the trainer teaches the dog by encouraging it to mirror his or her actions, according to information about the method on the Internet.
Ms. Vamosi-Nagy said the Mirror Method was developed because she wanted to have a tough dog that would not be aggressive and that she could walk without a leash or muzzle.
“When you do everything on a leash, it’s easy because you have the power with the leash, but it’s not real. We (founders of the Mirror Method) believe the real power is if you can control a dog off-leash,” Ms. Vamosi-Nagy said. “We believe you have to teach people and not the dog. The main idea was to help people to understand their dog more and to help dogs be understood more.”
Ms. Vamosi-Nagy flew both dogs with her to roll out the Mirror Method of dog training in the United States.
There are three parts of the Mirror Method.
The first part, a healthy life style, is very important, Ms. Vamosi-Nagy said. The way dogs can stay healthy is if they have a chance to get all their energy out through physical exercise, working the brain and their instinct, she said.
A dog will be more difficult to handle and resort to digging the garden, chewing the furniture and other bad behavior if he is not allowed to run and exercise and challenge its brain, Ms. Vamosi-Nagy said.
The second part of the Mirror Method is teaching. “For teaching,” she said, “we use a clicker.” That’s a device that makes a click sound and is used in the Mirror Method of dog training by dog owners to reward a dog for doing something good, Ms. Vamosi-Nagy said.
For example, an owner would click if the dog stays, fetches, jumps, goes around or does different tricks.
“With clicker training, we only teach with positive reinforcement. There is nothing forced when we are teaching them. It’s fun. We only give positive feedback if he is doing good,” Ms. Vamosi-Nagy said.
Treats also are given to dogs in the Mirror Method.
“The third part of the Mirror Method is called leadership. … The dog is living with you in the family; you have to set some rules,” Ms. Vamosi-Nagy said.
“We need to tell them it’s OK to go there (or) it’s not OK to go there. When I tell you to come, you have to come. It’s not OK to attack other dogs, and it’s not OK to attack people. Being the leader is the most difficult for us as humans because there have to be consequences. Sometimes you have to be more strict.”
Trainers using the Mirror Method have control over dogs and can have many dogs together at the same time that are well behaved, she said.
The training consists of a beginner course and an advanced course, each lasting eight weeks with classes running an hour and a half. Also available are puppy classes, behavior modification and private training.
“We teach mostly with motivation and food,” Ms. Vamosi-Nagy said. “We like to teach them in a playful way so there is a lot of fun in the classes. There are a lot of games. This is how they can learn, so they enjoy it. We like to challenge them “We like to teach people to understand not just their own dog but dogs in general. When they go home, they can figure out things on their own. We don’t tell them all the time to do this exactly this way. … We like to let them think and find their own way, so we teach them different techniques, and we let them figure out their own way. We like the dogs to enjoy working with their owner.”
In the beginner course, dogs learn basic behaviors. Ms. Vamosi-Nagy said they learn to sit, lie down, heel, eye contact and to come when called.
“But I think it’s a lot more important what the people learn — how to play with their dog, how to reinforce behavior, how to teach, how to use a clicker, timing and they start to set up rules, such as do not get out of the car without permission and wait until the owner says it’s OK to come out.”
In the advanced course, dogs learn more high-level training and exercises, such as going through obstacles and responding to hand signals, Ms. Vamosi-Nagy said.
Alicia Bolls has an energetic mixed border collie that she said would not pay attention, would not come when called and would jerk at her clothes. Ms. Bolls paid for a lot of different training, but she said nothing worked until now.
Ms. Bolls drives from Dallas for Mirror Method classes in Athens. “I never thought this would work, and it does,” Ms. Bolls said. “It’s changed our whole relationship. He’s happier,” she said, noting her dog now comes when called, has other desired behavior and she can control him without a leash.
The next round of Mirror Method dog training courses will begin March 2 in Athens and March 5 in Tyler. More information can be obtained by going to the website, www.mirrordogschoolusa.com or calling 903-368-1990.