The Method To My Gladness

The age-old question of “how did they do it”, what was the method? This is a good question indeed. Let’s first start out by stating a few things up front that can define what it is we’re looking to do.


I am starting with the understanding we’re working with companion dogs as well as shelter dogs. The goal would then be to build bonds, not binds or bombs. We’re looking to train basic manners and get a few cute tricks in the repertoire of the dog. Let’s leave the hardcore behavior modification of fear and aggression issues off the table for now, though I’ll touch on fearful dogs and greeting people briefly. 


Bob Bailey one of the master animal trainers said, “Dog training is a mechanical skill”. I would like to add those mechanics are based on timing and accurately and legitimately recognizing the dogs behavior.


I will also go on the premise there will be no pain, force, shock, startle, or fear tactics used to train the companion dog. I can no longer assume that people are not using something in the aforementioned list of “methods”? Anyone can point to the operant quadrant positive punishment and say they are using “science”; however there is an ethical and practical reason the aversive used must be humane. No one wants the fallouts of pain training. Those are fear, aggression and heightened anxiety. 

The behaviors we all want from our dogs are good manners, IE: impulse control, usually in hectic environments.
 
The common and unfortunately the most unrewarded desirable behaviors are “sitting” and “waiting”. Many times because dogs offer these two up so freely. What about sit and wait for duration with distractions? How do you get a dog to pay attention when they are distracted? Practice, that’s how…

If you have a dog that likes to play, tug, or fetch you can get a rock solid sit and wait with distractions each time you play, this will bleed over into other contexts. Yes, there are exceptions, however if you implement a consistent regiment of “sit and wait” using everything imaginable as the reward, you will start to see sit happen more. For example if you are letting your dog through any door without some form of sit &wait, you are blowing perhaps 10 chances a day to train sit & wait.
 
When dogs are happy, relaxed, and receptive and you have a reward such as play, you can get great results. Also when we play with our dogs we are also happy and not frustrated. The trouble is people just throw the ball or tug the rope toy and do not follow through with asking for drop its, asking for leave its, asking for sits and asking the dog to “wait” a second, then throw the toy. All those little tasks that you ask for from the dog equal work and the dog gets on the program of impulse control in a fun environment, provided that the humans are consistent.
 
If the dog is off the hook with excitement and cannot contain himself, remove the toy and do a “time out” let the dog chill about 5 seconds. If you’re outside, let the dog sniff and run, if you are inside, walk away, or if your dog is really bonkers try a time out in the crate for 30 seconds, or when he is not messing with the toy put it away. By stopping all things fun, the dog will get the picture, remember, you can toggle your stopping and starting the pay-n-train as well, this is where mechanics and timing really become fun. 

 
The method here is designed to get people working and training the dog during play, not just letting the dog run crazy, or simply bring it drop, it bring, it drop all on his own while you sip a coffee, though that is ok sometimes. You may want to practice that sit - stay while the ball gets bounced once or twice then Fido gets the ball to chase. Or perhaps you are looking for something big like a down stay while you walk away 10 steps, don’t forget to ask for the down - stay the dog if he breaks position, repetition and follow through will get you results. Dogs like sequences, especially when it pays off at the end with something they like or love.
 
Many people think training happens a few times in class or if they hire a trainer, not so. Training happens from the time you get up to the time you sleep for the dog’s whole life, even if you think you’re not “training” your dog is still learning.
 
By “training as you go” or NILIF, or training at every turn, your mechanics will inevitably get better. Timing will also come along for the ride as well when you’re consistently training. The consistency factor is where just about everyone goes awry at some point.
 
One issue many dog owners have difficulty with is how their dog greets people. This seems to be an ongoing problem with just about all of my clients. It ranges from jumpy happy dogs to dogs who do not feel good about people coming into the home.
 
The happy jumpy dog is not a good thing for everyone. It starts with the people who are in the dog’s life each day, so the main people in the dog’s life must not allow it. To effectively change this behavior either the people must ignore the dog and be boring until the dog is sitting or at least has 4 on the floor, or walk out of the room or leave the house before the dog even gets to jump. This is best done by setting the dog up, IE: You and some friends plan to do a round of come in and leave unless the dog is relaxed. Again set your criteria. I usually say that as long as the dog has all four paws on the floor he gets some form of greeting. If not, I retract, that is the toggle I spoke of earlier. It is always best to enlist some friends to help you train by coming and going until the dog can succeed at greeting nicely.
 
Obviously when you have guests who do not want to deal with the dog or the training I suggest a management protocol such as using work-to-eat toys to keep your dog busy when guest are around.
 
Recently I had a family use a plain old baby gate with a jumpy pit bull and a 9-year old girl. Each day the small girl would come home from school and the dog would bound over and jump to greet her. It was becoming a problem. I had the family set up the baby gate and they kept Henry in the kitchen. When the girl came home she followed the instructions perfectly. She could go to the gate and say hello, but as soon as Henry got off the floor, she should turn around and walk away. She continued this until Henry would sit for her hello. It took two days and Henry was sitting as she approached and while she said hello petting him over the gate.
 
The family also used this removal of their daughter whenever Henry got too rambunctious during play or if there was an out of the blue energy burst from Henry, they would time him out. In matter of weeks things leveled off.
 
The last factor of recognizing the dog’s behavior accurately or legitimately is a whole other kettle of fish. This is where we really get into the debate over “methods”. It’s in the paradigm of “what is the dog doing”, “why is he doing it” and “how much of it is” acceptable. Even right down to clicker and shape training…a basic criterion for all pet dog training is simple.
 
1-       Does the dog feel safe? If yes proceed, if no, perhaps proceed with caution, but you better be on that Desensitizing/Classical Conditioning freestyle in the moment, otherwise it could get messy. It really depends on the goal; in most cases with any fear or anxiety in training I would suggest abandon the plan and re-think it. Start by addressing the emotional issue first.

2-        What are you paying for, what are you paying with? Let’s get real, dogs do well with rewards and rewards come in many ways. Know what motivates your dog and that is half the job done correct right there.

3-     Distance, Duration and Distraction come into play in all dog training and behavior modification protocols. If you are not factoring in the three D’s you may not be getting the best results.
 
The good news is if you leave out all the pain “methods”, you will more than likely be ok, sure your dog might be partially trained, but chances are he will not view the world as unsafe, which creates a stress-case or a ticking time-bomb.
 
Besides, the notion of a “perfect” dog is not logical. Essentially the one thing we want is a well-mannered and emotionally stable dog. It’s really about increasing probability of desired behaviors and decreasing probability of undesired behaviors, within reason. After all, dogs are dogs, they are living beings with their own minds and desires, and they will do dog things.
 
No matter what, when it comes to dogs people have to be responsible and that means humane, especially when choosing a training “method”. We know how dogs learn and we know the fallouts from aversive methodology, after all we’re way past Descartes and that view of animals, are we not?
 
Seeing as everyone will have different mechanics, different timing, and the knowledge base of how to identify and recognize dog behavior is in such disarray…
 
It boils down to legitimate advice, based humane consequences and consistent rules. Keep it conversational and think like a referee. Build bonds, not binds or bombs. Follow this advice you’ll be doing the best thing for you and your dog.

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