Saturday, June 29, 2013

R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means...

I've been professionally training dogs for almost 14 years.  Over those years I've done a number of things  in order to train dogs and help dog owners. This includes various tools, methods and advice to be dispensed.  However, just in the past 3 years I've changed a lot of my training dramatically and I feel that now I'm really grasping the reality of dogs and their behavior.  -- What do you mean? -- You ask ... Let me go a little further ...

First of all, no one will ever completely understand dog behavior as it is so complex.  Just like all animal behavior we are always learning.  The same goes for humans as well, I suppose. However, with our canine friends we cannot ask them how they feel or what they are thinking so it's a little more difficult than working with humans.

What I've learned in the past few years with my evolving training and education regarding dog behavior is that to truly modify behavior and train a dog -- be it to work with a chewing puppy or an aggressive or fearful rescue dog -- we must really understand why the dog is doing what he is doing.  I'm not saying that I didn't try to do this during my entire training career, I'm saying I've learned that before I only thought that was what I was doing.  What I was actually doing before was just trying to get the dog I wanted and to get rid of certain behaviors. In the past I wasn't really "listening" to the dog.  

I really sit back and take a lot in now.  It all makes so much sense if you really look at it with a new perspective.  We don't respect dogs enough, we just put expectations on them.  I find that more humans just want a dog and want the dog to do (fill in the blank), however they don't take into consideration the reality of some of their expectations.  Humans think animals are so trainable that sometimes we treat them like electronics that can be programmed to do specific things and not to do specific things ... but often at an unrealistic level.

Of course we can train dogs to do many things for us, specific tasks and things.  However, the calls I get are often really interesting as they have a heavy "I need my dog to do this or not do this, or else" connotation.  Here are some examples of actual things  dog owners have said to me over the years ...

"I have a 10 week old Pomeranian puppy and she has to go potty like twice a night. I need my sleep, can you help me train her to stop waking up in the night?"
You may be thinking -- Ok, what's wrong with that request?  Well nothing. At some point yes, a dog can and should sleep through the night.  However, a 10 week old puppy is like asking a newborn infant to not require feedings every 3 hours and wake up during the night.  It's unrealistic at best and abusive at worst if you ignore that behavior from a young puppy.  Anyone that is a parent knows this all too well.  Did you not get up in the night the first several months with your babies to feed them (multiple times!) and often lose tons of sleep?!  Why should a baby dog be different, because it's a dog?!  

"My dog barks when he's in his crate. Can we train him to stop barking so my neighbors won't complain? My friend told me to squirt him in the face with a water bottle when he barks but it doesn't really help much."
Absolutely we can.  But we first need to find out why he's barking.  Trying to tell the dog he's "bad" for doing this isn't very respectful. What if he's afraid? Anxious? Needs to pee? We need to address the reason for the vocalization first then we can help the dog learn to be comfortable and have his needs met.

"My dog pulls on the leash. I keep my leash short and tight so he's right next to me but he still tries to pull."  ....  "My dog chokes when he's  pulling on the leash but it doesn't stop him from pulling."  .... "I use this collar and give a slight tug on it when we are walking and he'll walk nicely next to me, unless there is a cat, then he'll try to pull again and I have to give him another reminder." 
Leash pulling questions are very, very common for dog trainers  in all circles to hear.  The problem, again, is that we need to address the dog's main problem -- he doesn't know that he's supposed to walk on a loose leash.  Let me say that again, because the common thought now is this -- yes he does, I tell him "no" or I jerk on the leash or give him some sort of correction when he does pull ... That's the problem. You are only telling the dog what he is not supposed to do. So what do you want him to do? Walk on a loose leash, right? Ok. Then we have to teach the dog that you want that behavior.  Telling the dog what you don't want only addresses that -- what you don't want. It doesn't help the dog understand what in fact he is supposed to do and how to accomplish that!  

And the biggest and most common one of all  --- "My dog growled at me. I will not tolerate that. If he starts to snap he's gone!" (...or some version of that, there are many!)
A dog growls as a way to communicate a feeling of being uneasy.  Stop there. I know you are thinking -- but I didn't do anything, he just growled. Or, I'm his owner, he knows he can trust me ...  or something to that effect, right?!  Well, the truth is that if a dog is growling he doesn't feel comfortable. This is very often around children, not always but very often.  If your dog is growling you need to figure out why.  Do not correct this behavior.  You must address the reason for the dog growling.  Is he guarding something? Is he uncomfortable? Are you allowing a child to be near the dog when  possibly they should not be?  Is the dog in pain?  The list goes on for this.

But understand this.  This is a fact, contrary to what you want to believe ... if you correct your dog in any fashion for growling you may take away the dog's ability to give this very subtle warning.  A growl is nice.  The next move is a snap or a full bite.  If you continually tell a dog he is a "bad dog" for growling this will be your dog's thoughts -- "ok, so growling isn't working to get this human to back away, guess I'll just use my teeth to get my point across."  And next time you will gasp and think -- how could he?!  He did that because you were disrespectful. You didn't take the time to ask why he did it and then use training to teach him he doesn't need to feel the need to growl.  Yes, you find out why and train the dog to feel comfortable in the situation(s) that normally cause him to growl.  And yes, if he growls you do nothing.  Nothing. Back away and go to brainstorm as this means training is in order!

All of the above examples are a few of many things I run into, I could list a zillion more.  What they all have in common is that we all too often disrespect our canines.  We only hold high expectations for them.  We don't take into account that maybe we should take a step back and learn to understand our dogs and teach them what we do in fact expect of them.  Please understand what this post is saying in its entirety. I am not saying you need to allow dogs to display aggression or "naughty" behaviors. I am not saying that at all. I'm not saying you cannot have expectations of your dogs. I'm saying that we have to respect the reasons why dogs are doing what they are doing.

A 10 week old puppy is waking in the night because he's a baby and cannot physically hold it all night long.  A dog pulls on leash because he has not been trained how to maintain a loose leash and what it means to walk nicely with the person holding the leash.  A dog growls when chewing a bone because often dogs guard resources and must be taught that there is no reason to feel threatened by approaching humans (or dogs).  A dog barks in a crate for many reasons and squirting it in the face with water isn't going to take the dog's crate anxiety away but will probably increase it (or worse).

You have to understand why your dog does what he does. Usually it is as simple as "he doesn't know anything else", and dogs do what works for them. If your dog jumps on guests grabbing his paws or kneeing him in the chest (some old school techniques to "get  rid of" these behaviors) is not teaching your dog that a nice polite sit for greetings is more acceptable and he can also be petted  at the same time -- win/win!  

So instead of saying, "Stop it! No!" or grabbing for a squirt bottle or kneeing a jumping dog or yelling at your dog, ask yourself this -- if this were a human child would I approach them the same way?  If your infant is waking in the middle of the night you are definitely not getting angry with the baby (but I do understand first hand how very tiresome this is!). If your child is crying in the other room across the house you don't yell "Shut up!!!" first, do you? Most likely you go into the room and ask, "What's the matter?!"  Once you get the answer you try to address the issue.  

We cannot ask our dogs questions as to why they do what they do; they cannot give us an answer.  So we must show them what is expected and how they can properly carry out these behaviors. We must understand and respect their emotional state in the moment, especially in regards to fear, aggression and anxiety.  Then and only then can we change behavior appropriately, correctly and with lasting results ... and without the use of aversives.  It is this kind of true and genuine understanding of the canine species that will lead us to lasting and wonderful results with our training because we are addressing the dog as a whole and not just suppressing those "unwanted" behaviors. We are actually addressing the "why" of those unwanted behaviors and helping the dog understand how to overcome those as well as change those unwanted behaviors into acceptable behaviors.  This is where a dog's relationship with his owner becomes so strong that training is simple and true to form ...

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