Saturday, June 8, 2013

Consequential Conduct: The Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth

One of the first questions I am usually asked after one of my behavior lectures is “So exactly how did you get your dogs not to [nuisance] bark?” my response is always the same, “Well, how is it that you successfully taught your dog to [nuisance] bark?” And then the inquisitive look and silence.
Kiss~Me at 8 weeks old "pre-washing" the dishes. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Wow! Grubbing for our leftovers. Good dogs get great rewards! Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Basically, my theory in dog training is that 100% of the time you spend with your dog you are either training or un-training behaviors. Active lives and busy schedules make for very limited time with our dogs. It is my opinion that in those short bursts of time in between what we have to do to earn a living and what we need to do to live, our dogs get more “training” then we realize. Sometimes good, most times bad.
Puppies relaxing on the back deck. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Kiss~Me showing of her two front teeth. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

I often ask my clients “would you consider this method something that would be acceptable to a child of the same age (keeping in mind the old rule of thumb of approximately 7 years to 1 year for dog to humans in maturity, respectively). What I find most of the time is that people give young dogs much to much responsibility than the young dog can emotionally handle all in the name of integration into the “pack” (be it dog pack or human dog pack). People seem to be in a hurry to bring the puppy up as fast as possible so that it can do what the adult dogs do, so that they, the owners, don’t have to work so hard. In doing this I feel that they are rushing the process of maturity and making the puppy responsible for making choices that the pup is in no way mature enough to comprehend. And then the trouble starts and the relationship starts to break down.
Bravo during one of his photo shoots. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Kiss~Me playing in the snow with a "treasure", a stick she found.
Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Teaching my dogs not to bark excessively isn't hard. If and when the dog is behaving badly, I simply address the dog and explain to them that this is not something we do, sometimes actually wording it exactly that way. When the dog quiets down, I verbally reward them. Sounds simple right? Well it is. See my dogs and I have a very solid relationship. I don’t put them in situations that are beyond their handling capability and they don’t put me in them either. If the dog is barking out of control, its is my job as his caretaker to make sure I’m not expecting too much from him. Perhaps I have put him in a position where he can not contain himself (ie watching other dogs play). In that case, my bad, and I rectify the situation by taking the dog out of that environment and occupy him some other way. Just like I would a human child if the games that were being played were too advanced for that child.
Kiss~Me demonstrating amazing control for her first ever herding lesson.
Photo Credit: Steve Surfman

Tug, a recently retired US Marine Bomb Detection Dog, learning how to relax at a school ball game. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

If however, the dog has made a choice to say, bark excessively, in a situation that he is more than able to handle, then I will speak to the dog in a calm clear voice and distract that dog from whatever it is barking at. When I speak to my dogs, they pay attention to me, always, because that is our relationship. Just as I would expect my child to pay attention to what I am telling them at all times, I hold my dogs to these expectations as well. If the child or dog has a problem with paying attention to me, I will remove that child/dog from the situation until they can pay attention to me.  Simple as that.
Kiss~Me being desensitized to towel drying. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Mr T showing amazing impulse control with his toy penguin. Photo Credit: Speedoggie


Got'cha! redirecting his anxiety and controlling his desire to bark at dogs running agility by sucking on his pillow. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

For most people, this can be too much work. For me, this is my responsibility as a dog owner. The situations that my dog is put into are my responsibility. I am in control of practically all of my dog’s day to day life. My dog has very little choice or decision in this. Thus, as my dog’s champion, I feel that my responsibility is that I must make time for anything and everything my dog needs to behave the way I expect my dog to behave. The time I put into my dog’s training as a pup and teenager will be paid back ten-fold when that dog is an adult.
Wow! practicing his swim retrieve. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Touché, at under two years old, showing incredible impulse control while watching an agility competition. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Kiss~Me at 8 weeks old enjoying socializing with new and familiar family members on Celine and Joe's wedding day. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Frenzy tolerating an inflatable donut devise to keep her from licking an incision after a spay surgery. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

My dogs do not do anything out of force or resistance. In our agility program, my dogs do not resist static positions (start line stays, contacts, tables, etc) because these are part of the game and the game is fun. I trained it that way. When we are herding, my dogs willingly lie down, change direction, etc. because they understand that this is all part of what we are doing. At the first sign of resistance, I address the issue... and that issue is usually a relationship issue and not a training issue. 
Gemma working as a therapy dog at a hospital in NYC. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Touché watching agility. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Got'cha! demonstrating a "stress lick" while controlling his emotions while watching other dogs swim in a stream. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Relationship issues are often misdiagnosed as the dog being “dominant”, or “blowing you off”. The training methods most commonly used for these kinds of issues revolve around force and intimidation. I’m not willing to play a game with my best friend and partner, who is playing this game because I asked him to, if that game requires me to break down the relationship with the dog. If my dog and I are truly working together, then we should be working as one unit. There is no resistance or force, we are a team.
Got'cha! looking back for his handler to give him permission to go swimming. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Got'cha! watching other dogs play in the stream. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Got'cha! closeup. Photo Credit: Speedoggie
There are no quick answers for how to achieve the kind of emotional balance that is the core of “relationship training” as I see it. No set recipes to get you from here to there. Each dog and handler team is unique, each with its own individual needs. But after 30+ years of building successful working teams the one thing I can say is that most performance “problems” have a foundation based equally on skill and on relationship issues. In order to fix the team we need to take a holistic approach to the problem. 
Got'cha! at his first ever high school softball game socializing with the team players. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Stamp getting a reward for a job well done. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Wow! relaxing before an agility run. Photo Credit: Speedoggie

Relationship training is about mastering leadership techniques without domination. Its about learning how to speak to your dog in a language they understand. Its about how to love without bias or blinders. We surround ourselves with dogs to bring us back to our roots. To be able to live in the moment, outside of our species. Its an opportunity and a gift and should always be taken seriously. Its worth taking the time to do it right.
Kiss~Me watching her sheep. Photo Credit: Steve Surfman


Got'cha! smelling the camera. Photo Credit: Speedoggie



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