What Dog Training Taught me about Parenting and Partnership
Whatever you feed, not only lives, but grows. Whatever you starve, dies.
While positive reinforcement may look like just feeding dogs treats, it’s much more than that.
It’s complex, because if positive reinforcement isn’t done correctly, it can actually be encouraging/enabling the very behaviors that are trying to be extinguished.
We are marking behavior we want more of. It’s called shaping….taking tiny moments of desired behavior and watching these moments grow into habits, and eventually a lifestyle, all the while building better bonds between humans and their faithful fur companions.
Many people still think dog training is about being the commanding Alpha and a dog submitting. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Alpha mentality is dangerous (how many people get bit), and science does not support it, as the results can be devastating, for both dogs and humans.
Creative solutions and outlets to enrich dogs’ lives, by allowing them to be dogs, and showing them it is to their benefit to listen to you, is a win-win.
Working with dogs who have endured aversive training techniques, is heartbreaking. The fear of corrections if they make a mistake, limits their problem-solving abilities. Many dogs who were compulsion-trained, never lose their anxiety about “doing the wrong thing” when they’re unsure of what the “right” thing is.
Dogs that have been trained with positive reinforcement are always trying to problem solve by presenting preferred behaviors.
Some people say, “My dog should just come because I say, ‘Come!’ I shouldn’t need a reward for them.” The ole, “Because I said so mentality.”
So, I play that scenario out in their own human lives, so they can see, first-hand, that they are expecting more from their dog than they do themselves:
Let’s say work calls and asks you to come in. You go to work, do your job, and they don’t pay you. This happens a few more times. Now, you’re doing what you love (say, riding motorcycle), and work calls. Will you rush into work just because they’re calling? You might, because as humans we know that we should be contributing members of society, but it’s doubtful.
Dogs are operating on survival instinct. The truth is, usually so are we. In the wild, if an animal continues to do something that expends energy for no benefit, it dies.
Now, let’s say work calls and you go in, and everyone cheers when you walk in the door. You do your job and get a BIG spot bonus, and everyone hugs you when you leave (if you enjoy bodily contact). This happens time and time again. Now, when you’re doing what you love (riding motorcycle or whatever), and work calls, that is about the only chance you’re coming…they have catered to your survival instinct and all of your love languages: Pay (bonus), praise and “petting.”
They built trust, by showing you that it was always worth the energy you expended to come and any sacrifices you made to be there.
Most people do not stop doing what they love for a job that does not pay well, or nothing at all. Dogs don’t either.
Science has proven that it is best/most effective to “work with your dog’s wiring,” not against it
I always tell my trainers, “One of your biggest jobs is to endear people to their dog.” If they have a Sheltie that barks, it’s normal to want to keep it at bay, but it is not a bad dog. In fact, if the owner was a shepherd, he/she would say it is a good dog. They could rest because their Sheltie is always on the job and alerts/wards off any intruders.
If owners do not want their dog on the beds or furniture, it is our job to find some bigger benefit for the dog to stay down. It is also important to help people to understand that their dog is not being “bad,” but doing a normal dog behavior. By sitting up higher, they are better able to alert us of changes in the environment/intruders. They are trying to help. Plus, they are social animals and like to be where we are or where our scent is.
Why is it important to help people understand and endear people to their dog? Because it can prevent a life of abuse for animals, and a life of regret for humans. I’ve even had people say, “I see the results! I like this training so much better. I just never knew another way.”
Nobody gets to the end of their dog’s life and says, “Man, I wish I had yelled, shocked, hit, or kneed my dog more.” Nobody.
Yet still, people find it hard to understand training without punitive measures. Here again, I find people examples help. Let’s take potty training: You have two bathrooms in your home (Bathroom A and Bathroom B). Every time your wife uses bathroom A, you tell her how beautiful she is, you hug her and give her a diamond. Every time she uses bathroom B, nothing. You completely ignore her, like she doesn’t exist. It won’t take long before she stops using Bathroom B. You didn’t have to yell, or grab her. There was just no benefit.
What you feed, not only lives, but grows. Whatever you starve, dies.
Dr. Lore Haug is a veterinarian animal behaviorist, the highest trained animal expert in the country. The schooling is so difficult (12 years), that there are only about 80 in the entire world, and we are lucky enough to have her here, in the Houston area. She’s a vet, a psychiatrist, scientist, and trainer. She chose to pour into me, so I could pour more of her goodness into the dog world.
Once you know a better way, it’s hard to know you can really only change one life for the better at a time. Thus, these blogs.
Like people, dogs appreciate choices. Choices and chances to be dogs. I remember working with a dog that did not want to walk. He would either pull or plant. And when you think about it, there’s nothing natural about plodding along on a walk for a dog. They were meant for big bursts of energy, for hunting and/or the flight or fight response. Interval training has proven to be what human bodies are designed for as well. By simply making walking beside the owner super rewarding/exciting, and offering him free time to roll and sniff the grass and be a dog, thereafter when given the free time, the dog would often look up to say, “You know what? I’d rather walk beside you now.”
Just like with a wild horse, you have to build trust for them to be okay being lead. Even then, if the reins are pulled too tight too soon, the horse will revolt/crave freedom.
I think this is true of most people too. If you trust someone, it’s nice to have someone take control from time-to-time, knowing they have your best interest in mind. It allows you to rest/relax, but someone who is controlling, out of the need to be in charge/dominate, is soul sucking.
You’ll see a dog either submit out of fear, and live most of its life tail tucked, head down or turn aggressive. A lose-lose life.
In most all human relationships (marital, work, parent-child), someone, at some point, needs to take the lead/make the hard decisions.
And if you watch closely, the most successful leaders are as selfless as possible.
I try to keep the following in mind when I’m working with dogs, since they don’t have a voice in things:
“All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.
While the leader is leading, no one feels oppressed.
While the leader makes the final decision, no one feels manipulated. They are grateful.”
In other words, to make an effective leader, you must first try to understand those you are leading…their needs, what motivates them, what nurtures their soul, and what kills it.
When I was a young mother of girls one year apart, I was raising them the same, but it became obvious they were completely different. Eventually I figured out that I needed to get out of their way, and go out of my way, to help them find a path that worked WITH their individual wiring, lest they not lose their beautiful God-given bents, and end up living a life that was more about someone else’s version of a good life than their own.
It is the same with dogs.
Is it going to require more creativity, and effort to really look at what your dog needs and wants? Yes, but I tell my clients, “Let’s train in a way that when your dog takes its last breath, you’ll have no regrets.”
Living beings are not masterpieces that you create to control. They are already amazing creations, and if you have the privilege and HUGE responsibility of leading/shaping them, be careful what you are, or are not, “feeding” them.
Are you feeding fear, for instance? Fear is a horrible motivator. It doesn’t foster relationship or trust, and while it may give you compliance, it can also rob a living being of all they were created to be, leading to anxiety, depression or aggression.
Be careful what you are feeding.
As in all things in life:
Whatever you feed, not only lives, but grows. Whatever you starve, dies.
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