ALBANY, Ga. -- There's nothing wrong with working like a dog. As long as you're having a good time doing it.
In addition to managing Wynfield Plantation on Leary Road, Mike Osteen has spent 27 years as a dog trainer. On Tuesday, Osteen shared with members of the Dougherty County Rotary Club some basic keys to training any type of dog.
"It's just a matter of learning how to manipulate their natural desires to get them to do what you want," Osteen said.
While rewarding the animal with a treat can be effective to a point, Osteen sees this relationship as "teaching" and not a complete method of training. Eventually, the dog will find something he'd rather have or do.
"Once the dog is taught to be successful more than 80 percent of the time, we introduce a reprimand for each time he doesn't do it. Now he's reliable," Osteen said.
Reprimands, according to Osteen, can be as simple an eye or voice signal or can escalate to physical action, such as an electric collar.
"If a puppy is in a box," said Osteen, "and he bites his mother's ear, she bites him back. That's the only language he understands. It doesn't take long before he stops biting her."
Osteen started out as an all-breed dog obedience trainer, he said, but through the years has gained experience training dogs to retrieve, track, or to protect people. As manager of Wynfield, he's become an accomplished bird dog trainer.
He's helped train dogs to locate South Georgia truffles, small clumps of fungus growing around and under pecan tree roots. Similar to the sought-after European white variety, but with qualities all their own, pecan grove truffles were discovered in the 1980s.
"We searched 12 or 13 separate groves," Osteen said, "and found truffles in every one. We're thinking this could open up some new areas for revenue."
Osteen said he's even utilized a dog's superior sense of smell to warn of medical emergencies.
"I had a little nephew who was having some problems with diabetes," Osteen said. "I did a little research and found out that saliva goes through changes in smell. I could put (the saliva) on cotton balls and the dog could be very successful in telling me whether (the nephew) was about to have a seizure."
Perhaps Osteen's greatest canine contribution to society is the training of "bomb dogs" for the Marine Corps. The contract undertaking took him away from Wynfield for a time, he said, while he helped develop the dogs at a North Carolina kennel.
"It was intriguing to me that I could take something I'd worked with all my life and instead of winning a blue ribbon, I could save somebody's life," Osteen said.
According to Osteen, specialized bomb dog training is a blend of several disciplines to develop dogs which can run loose and free up to 200 meters ahead like a bird dog, make sudden stops and change directions while hunting (characteristic of a retriever), and find articles such as bombs or drugs while restrained by a leash.