Monday, May 27, 2013

Teaching Dog

The popular advice is to be the "pack leader", which is basically saying "When your dog is acting out and trying to dominate you, then you must emulate a wolf". This piece of advice has, as most know, led to strange training and behavior management methods that are controversial at best and downright silly in some instances.

I was thinking about this and realized - if I did act like a wolf when my dog jumped up on me, what would that really mean I was to do? I don't have any wolves handy to test with, so I thought back to Saturday morning when Brynda was out with me during class being the teaching dog. What did she do when a dog got rude with her? She turned around and gave him what for and he backed off and was much more respectful after that. It happened one more time during the other dog's interaction with Brynda as he was trying all those things he has used in the past with other dogs and also with people. One more time, more mildly the second time, Brynda turned and snarked at him and he stopped with the rude behavior. Not only did he stop, but he started parallel walking with her, sniffing where she did and basically being her shadow.

So how does Brynda's action affect how I should respond to a dog being rude (head butting Brynda)? jumping up? humping my leg? nipping my hands (Brynda's ear)? There's is no way that my lunging at, snapping at and making the sounds Brynda did are going to have the same affect. My body is different, my speed is different, my coordination is different and my vocal chords are different. That dog knows I'm not a dog or a wolf. Brynda didn't alpha roll the dog, she didn't punch him, nip him on the neck or grab his collar and jerk it. In fact, she never made physical contact with the other dog at all unless sound waves count.

Can I, as a human, communicate as effectively as Brynda did so that ONE TIME was all that was needed to stop a particular behavior? Not if I try to emulate a dog or a wolf because I am not either of those species. The dog I'm trying to stop knows this, and so do I.

I think the first thing that has to be looked at between a human and dog is whether there is "interest in engagement" coming from both sides. Without that interest in engagement, you may be able to force a dog to comply with your wishes but you will have to apply that force repeatedly (or with enough intensity) until the dog finally gives up. If a dog is interested in engaging with me, even if that engagement is fueled by food or play, I can get a dog to do anything. I can also stop any behavior I don't like, the first time, with permanence, just by telling the dog I want nothing more to do with it if it's going to act like that. You can't just ignore the behavior, you have to indicate somehow that it's inappropriate and won't be tolerated in your presence. But force is never the answer - ask Brynda.

Have a shy dog? Fearful of new places? Doesn't seem to know how to play or interact or too scared to? Again, ask Brynda. Her answer? Walk away and play with something, come back and sniff, walk away and play with something, sniff the ground, lay down with back turned away from scaredy dog, pick up toy and throw it near the other dog, grab the toy and play with it close to the other dog, sniff the dog and walk away. In 80% of the cases of shy dogs, at this point they start following Brynda around and sniffing the toys she throws at them. Eventually, Brynda will lay down and, I'm assuming, invite the shy dog to come lay down with her and if it happens, give the other dog a bath and a massage. This might repeat for a couple of sessions if I let Brynda do all the work and the owner of the scaredy dog is willing. But once is usually enough to handle the fear to the point of being able to work with the dog myself and finish the confidence building.

More and more as I'm understanding what it means to be a dog, I'm realizing how inappropriate most training methods are. Brynda has been the best teacher I've ever had. Her methods are "come be with me and do what I do" or "come play with me and learn this skill" and of course "don't do that". This is where I am heading. There are still the residuals of traditional methods, human ego and frustration, but it's working and dogs are recovering faster and with more permanence and skills are learned in short quick sessions with fun and companionship all around.