Saturday, February 11, 2012

Philosophy of Behavior Training - Alignment

Alignment in my world means aligning the dog to the real world, the human world, the world that dogs have been co-existing with for thousands of years. Alignment is, like attention, a form of communication. Alignment shows the dog that the human world exists differently from a purely canine world, how to communicate with this world and the humans in it and to not be afraid of any of it.

Dogs evolved along side humans for the last 12,000 to 100,000 years depending on which scientific studies you subscribe to. Dog have evolved to look to us for information rather than trying to gather it themselves. I see it more as efficiency than a cognitive deficit.

Convergent evolution is championed by many scientists who believe that because dogs share many of the same behaviors we do, they give us the opportunity to explore the evolution of our own abilities in another animal–something that few other creatures provide.

PBS aired a program - Dogs Decoded - about cognitive studies in animals. One problem-solving study compared the response of dogs to wolves. When faced with a challenge to get food the dogs would invariably look to the human handler for instruction. The wolves never did. The dogs would also give up rather quickly compared to the wolves who would keep at it. One conclusion from this study was that dogs have been bred to respond to and interact with humans.

Assuming the conclusions of this research are correct and dogs share a cognitive ability with humans that our close cousins the chimpanzee lack, then that suggests that this ability resulted from convergent evolution. Much like the wings of birds and bats, this cognitive ability was not shared with common ancestors suggesting that they evolved independently.

One of the behaviors that was discovered that dogs did better then any other animal, is following the gaze of a human, understanding that where the human looks is where they should look, where the human points, is where they should put their attention. So the best and main tool of alignment is targeting.

By the use of targeting - assisting the dog to touch, look at, sniff or otherwise interact with the environment - a dog learns that control by a human is a good thing, that control itself is a good thing, that control doesn't have to be pervasive and that control of himself, his body and the things in his environment are possible.

Dogs are said to live in the moment. But what does living in the moment mean? It means that the dog's attention is in this place and time, that she is engaged with life and the environment, that she approaches it rather than avoids or denies it. When a dog is living in the moment, she is a participant, living life intimately rather than considering life from the distance and constantly looking for the danger the past tells her is always there.

Control doesn't have to be physical and it doesn't have to be immediate. I've found over the years that just my willingness to be in control, creates that control. Having the ability to create something, to keep it moving and to be able to stop what I created and the willingness to do it, means that it happens. I do it, I don't wait for someone or something else to control my life or the small things in it. This is what I give to dogs with "alignment".

A dog becomes reactive because life becomes unpredictable. A reactive dog is constantly checking the threat value of all those (human or other) around him. Some dogs are even checking the inanimate objects for threat value - who knows, something could fall out of the sky and crush the dog. With control, self control, the dog can bring some predictability back into her world and hence become less reactive.
Touching, looking at, examining, mimicing, following and learning to make choices create self control in a dog. This also includes processes which allow the dog to become more aware of his own body, how it moves, how it can be moved and what happens when it's touched by something or someone else.

Targeting processes are designed to assist the dog to live in the moment, unhampered by the trauma of the past. Life becomes predictable for the dog. With targeting, a dog starts to pay attention to what is there and not what he thinks might be hiding waiting to hurt him. He can actually start to interact with the real environment and his humans. Anxiety, nervousness and hyperactivity all disappear as the dog is living less in the past and more in the moment.

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