Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Action - Reaction


There's a lot of talk in certain dog training circles that says if a dog does something wrong it's always the handler's fault.  Either the instructions weren't clear, or the dog was confused by something else the handler did.  The idea is that you should not correct, you should go back - be clearer, because corrections are bad

While this may often be true, it is also true that dogs sometimes have their own agenda.  They are living things with minds and desires and impulses of their own.  Sometimes they just blow you off.  Sometimes they think they know better than you.  Sometimes they do know better than you.  (Ask anyone who works with sheepdogs.)


Corrections are information.  Dogs can use information to make choices.  Why is that so hard for people to understand?  (pulls out handfuls of hair...) You will know that the correction is useless when the dog does not respond to it - in some way.  If the correction is inappropriate, the dog's behavior will tell you.  Then you do what trainers are always telling you to get dogs to do - offer a different response.  Sometimes the right response is to shut up and let the dog deal with it

If training is a working partnership between individuals who have mutual trust, then sometimes you have to let the dog drive the car - so he can see where that gets him.  If he doesn't like where that gets him, he will come to you for help.

I remember once I was walking with a dog on lead, a lurcher.  Normally this was not a problem.  One day she decided that she could blow off everything she knew about walking on lead.  She saw something interesting and started leaping around to get at it.  She tangled herself in the lead and was falling all over the place.  I simply kept walking.  She had to do some really focused thinking about how to get herself out of that one.  But she did.  And pretty quickly, too.

Some woman across the street was hollering at me to stop and untangle the dog.  But the dog untangled herself.  And she never tangled herself up again.  She wasn't hurt.  She wasn't scared.  But she was really busy for a couple of moments.  And she learned a lot in those few moments.  She learned how to untangle herself, yes.  But she also learned that there were consequences to blowing off the rules.  And she learned that she not only had the power to make things happen, but that she had the power to make them un-happen.


The dogs that I have owned have this thing that they do.  If we're out walking and I have an agenda - say, get to the Post Office, I'm moving forward and the dog generally keeps pace with me.  But sometimes they see something fascinating that they want to check out.  Like the Lurcher, they know that my deal is to keep moving forward.  Running off at a tangent, does not work out for them.  A correction happens.  So what they do is check in with me.  They pull ahead of me, stop, and make eye contact.  When they do this, I say, "What?"  I stop.  The dog then indicates what they want - to go greet a friend, to check out a new thing, like a person holding a parrot (yes, that happened) by looking at it with interest.  The tail is usually wagging - "What's that?  Wanna go see!"  And so, usually, we go - together.  Sometimes not - sometimes there is a reason not to.  It's dangerous, or, it's afraid of the dog, or there simply isn't time.  So then we don't.  The dog is disappointed, yes, but it accepts the decision.  Dogs don't live in a democracy.  If you've raised them fairly, they know and accept that.


When Bill Keohler said, "If your dog digs a hole in a place you don't want him to, fill the hole with water and shove their head in it."  I said "No. That's stupid."  That just teaches the dog that you do random, scary things, and that you cannot always be trusted.  The dog may may avoid the scene of the ducking, but it probably won't be because he thinks digging a hole there is bad.  It will be because it's a place where his owner became irrational and did bad things to him.

But when he said that dogs should learn that there are consequences to their actions - and that they have the power to effect the consequences that are happy, and avoid the ones that aren't, I said, "That's a good thing!"  Because that not only gives the dog a way to get to a happy result,  it encourages them to think about how that might be brought about.

 The world that the dog lives in is bigger than me and the dog, but the rule of consequences is constant throughout that world.  I think it is better that a dog knows that.