Call me mum

Yesterday I was doing my usual geeking out, whilst watching a DVD on dog training about plenty in life being for free I had a light bulb moment (Prompted by the content) and thought YES!

There is such a great division in dog training right now, if I put myself in the shoes of ordinary dog owners….I would be utterly confused as to what best to do.

There are two major problems in my opinion.

Firstly the balanced trainers have years of a romantic explanation that is really easy for an owner to follow. Be your dogs’ leader as they are pack animals and every pack has a leader. If your dog is misbehaving it is simply down to the lack of your Alpha status. If your dog growls at you when he has a bone then you are failing to provide structure. If he growls at your child your child needs promotion and your dog requires demotion. If they pull on the lead you are not leading the hunt. The list goes on but the answer to every problem is the same….be a leader, man up and stop letting your dog away with this disrespectful, outrageous and challenging behaviour. We all thought this or similar at one time right?

But recently all that has been proven not to be the case, wolves live in family units, a peaceful and caring environment where every individuals  needs are met, and also the big bomb……..dogs aren’t wolves! Dogs aren’t hunters they are by their very nature scavengers and are seriously domesticated beyond belief! So why can’t this theory just be put down to history, we went with what we knew and now we know something different? Like smoking, it used to be used for medical cures but now we know it’s a killer.

I think in the past I have made my thoughts very clear on why owners shouldn’t use rank reduction methods whether physical or emotional so I am not going to bang on about it.

So the second problem, my friends lies with us, the positive dog trainer. All full of theory, quadrants, reinforcing schedules, aversive versus non aversive……why would you the dog owner need to know the bowels of Skinner to help you make a choice?

I wouldn’t go on an air flight and need to understand physics; I leave that up to the pilot. If my car breaks down I don’t need a mechanic to make me understand what exactly he is doing and why.

Now I am in no way suggesting that a dog trainer shouldn’t understand the science behind training, and yes it is a science before anyone starts to say otherwise, behaviour modification is a science. Behavioural science encompasses all the disciplines that explore the activities of and interactions among organisms in the natural world. So like it or not when you teach your dog to sit you have just interacted with another species, communicating what you want and hopefully achieving it….Voila behavioural science.

A good dog trainer should understand when something is a positive reinforcer and then when something becomes a negative reinforcer and so on…..but the average client that attends a puppy class just wants to achieve a well behaved dog. So with that in mind are we as positive trainers creating a rod for our own backs by making our product sound way too complex? I think yes….what we need is a simple way to describe what we do in a way that owners can imprint on quickly because the dream of being alpha is way too easy!

So what is training a dog? It’s a relationship right? Each and every one of us is in a relationship, whether it’s a spouse, or a child, or a sibling, or a friendship. And when you interact in these relationships are you told “you must have control”? I bet not, if you do then you’ll lose friends quickly, a good relationship is based on clear and concise communication. How many times when watching shows like the Jeremy Kyle show do you ask yourself all these family problems could be solved with rational communication? If my children don’t understand a math problem do I need to check my control over them or do I need to communicate how to solve the problem better? That’s very easy to answer.

So when interacting and living with your dog all you need to do is be able to communicate what you want in a way that is easy for your dog to understand, and sometimes all we need to do is manage our lives a little better.

Communication then, it’s a relationship that flows, you ask for something your dog does it you give something back, you ask again your dog does it and you give something back and so it goes on. The bad things we don’t want believe it or not we are being reinforced in one shape or another. Your dog growls at you when you try to take his bone. Then don’t give him a bone or give him his bone and let him eat it, then find yourself a trainer that understands resource guarding and work on it. Stop controlling and start communicating!

Managing our lives, easy, dog steals food off the table, don’t have your dog in the dining room whilst food is present then tidy up after yourself, it is really that simple. I recently seen a huge dog trainer pissing contest regarding a dog that stole a bone out the bin, we had one saying it was down to lack of respect and they need to claim the bin as a leader….are you serious? Why not move the bin, a lot easier, it then means you never put yourself or your dog in that position again. I have my bin in a utility room that the dogs don’t have access to, I would never leave a bucket and a dog unattended, and it’s comparable to leaving a child alone in a sweet shop!

So with all this in mind how do we easily explain force free & positive dog training?

Here’s how I would. I am a dog trainer that looks how best to prevent dogs from doing behaviours that conflict with human living. I do this by clearly communicating what I want them to do and how best to behave in all situations. I pledge to my dogs that if I ever let them down on something it will never happen a second time because I will take the time to teach them the way I think is more appropriate. I am a dog trainer, and a proud dog parent!

As always The Power Of Positivity. X


7 thoughts on “Call me mum

  1. Such a nice piece, Claire! As you know, I’m a pretty big quadrants person for myself, and want to make that accessible for those who are interested and for whom it is appropriate. On the other hand, I think you are exactly right that too much of that is off-putting for Average Joan who just wants her dog to stop bothering her in the kitchen. The simplest explanation that is both accurate and works is the best.

    I think my contribution about how to explain things is that behavior doesn’t come out of the blue. Behavior has consequences, and dogs do what works. There isn’t some pack drive or whatever the heck you call it, fuzzily driving a dog to “dominate” us. It’s just not some big mystery. A summary of being a loving pet mom for me is making sure to arrange the consequences to get the behavior that I like. And using the give and take that you so beautifully describe.

  2. I have to admit I am one of the dog owners who wasn’t exactly clear how you actually implemented positive reinforcement I sort of got it but it was a bit confusing. But I reckoned if I decided to buy a puppy in the future I’d cross that bridge when I came to it. I DID think it was quite complex to be honest but on reading your latest blod I’m reassured that its actually not rocket science. Im sure I’ll grasp it with good guidance – unless you’re at this moment writing ‘Positive Reinforcement for Dummies’ In which case put me down for a copy and I’ll start reading.

  3. I really enjoyed this blog. Our trainer is very good but does subscribe to the dances with wolves approach and has a friend who went to ‘live with the wolves in the US’ so our sessions are scattered with references to wolves. From now on when these snippets are aired I will think of your blog and wonder how I can better communicate with my mini-dachshund and not about how my caveman ancestor coped with those pesky wolves. Thank you for a really interesting blog.

  4. As I often explain to my clients, “Dog training isn’t rocket science, it’s about the relationship you have with your dog coupled with a huge amount of common-sense”. To my mind, Dog training should be easy and effective (otherwise owners just won’t do it) and enjoyable for both you and the dog. Nice piece once again Claire.

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