How about less rules and tools; just a different way of thinking


Path into The Hopper, near North Adams, Mass.
Path into The Hopper, near North Adams, Mass.                            Photo: J. Renzoni

I drove across the country (from Wis to Mass) with Obe the Dobie in mid-May. I had had him for six weeks (you may have read about it here) and had loaded on the positive training. He had been through two families in his short, 6-month life and needed lots of fun and acceptance, but channeled towards the things considered acceptable dog behavior. So being the smart boy he was, he learned a lot and became relaxed and confident, but still a young dog with all the young dog ideas–maybe even more of them since clicker training seems to encourage creativity.

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Historic Northampton Masonic Temple, home of Karuna Yoga studio and frequent office resting place for Obe. Photo: J. Renzoni

My daughter, needed a dog. She had raised and trained a Heeler (Denver) in high school and took her to college with her in Madison. But Denver hadn’t been happy in city life. Denver is 12-years-old now and would not like leaving Medford. So Obie, a much more social and outgoing creature with the appearance of a guard dog…arrived in Northampton.

Obe’s training continued and my daughter’s training began in earnest.

triptoMasswithObe2013 015    Aggressive/reactive training methods are remembered and appear to be easily trained to people. Being generous to the dog’s preferences often includes reinforcing things you may not want repeated, oops…like peeing on every hedge in a hedge filled city. Whereas awareness of what’s really going on and proactive, gentle approaches are overlooked and not marked into memory.

It was a long time since she had trained a dog from puppy-hood and even though he is now 8-months old, he’s still doing puppy things. He needs to be set up to do things right and not given a set up that will make it too difficult for him to comply. Just like a toddler, if they sleep all day, they’re not going to be willing to quietly sleep all night. Being irritated about it won’t fix it.

In yoga, (my daughter is an excellent yoga instructor, I was in one of her classes and heard it from countless of her students, young and old) the instructions are demonstrated, told in easy to do parts and repeated calmly and then the whole pose is done again with all the prompts and maybe key things pointed out quietly for individuals with praise for compliance. The idea is individual improvement and being in touch with mind/body. Forcing someone or causing injury is an anathema. And being aware of whether a student might be overdoing or doing things in a way that would be injurious is very important.

The same is true in dog communication. Positive, but not permissive. Intense awareness and pro-activity leads to easy companionship later.

Somehow the idea of focusing and rewarding early was difficult to understand. Maybe because it needs to be soooo early and the right thing is only a part of ‘the right thing.’ And the speed is often fast.

New person, new place, new smells…means almost total puppy kindergarten again. And being on a leash all the time means the collar ends up getting pulled on (aversive) way often just because two creatures are moving at different speeds and sometimes in different directions, which increases the need for fun play and fun treats even more. Otherwise the set up is irritating to both parties and then the dog doesn’t want to focus on the person, instead they want to sniff and get their own positive reinforcements from the world around them.

The different way of thinking is being ahead of the process enough to modify the series of events, example: there’s a person coming who wants to pet the lovely dog (this happened a lot) – so shorten the lead, while smiling and telling the person “I’m training him and could use your help to keep him calm while greeting people.” (or you could smile and just say “I’m training now, so no.”) Then they will pause, and if it’s a petting situation, I move into the way about 50 percent, to form a body block and keep hands on his neck/face area to modify and reassure the correct response. This will both modify their tendency of rowdy petting and his tendency to react to rowdy petting. As he gets better and better at this and more people get trained to pet him more appropriately, things will smooth out so less up front intervention is needed.

Pauses to calm and collect are important set up helps. If allowed to, most people will train a puppy/set them up to jump up and act wild while they tell them “No, down” and keep on touching and trying to pet.

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Woodland path, outside Northampton, Mass. Photo: J. Renzoni

Focus, mutual attention is needed, otherwise other things are more interesting for everyone. And being more interesting means having things to do or be more interesting with – in the woods? Sticks are good, dirt, leaves… In the city – toys, smells, food, benches for observing and calm mutual enjoyment.

Being engaged. Being in the present is the gift or maybe the hazard of having a pup.

It’s a different way of thinking. Being so aware of something else, an other. It’s a different way of thinking.

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