It’s more common to meet dogs that have not had to “work for a living” than to encounter people with dogs that know how to “say ‘Please'” and who enjoy training for the sheer pleasure of the activity. Not to say that that could remain intact without positive reinforcement, but it’s a totally different story training a dog that is accustomed to getting his way…let’s call them “privileged” ;). A few years ago I met a very privileged, one of a kind Portie. By nature, she’s “cool”—mellow, social, pretty low energy level. When I first started with her, I had her for at least a couple of weeks while her owner traveled. He said, ‘Maybe you can teach her some agility or something’. Unfortunately for his dreams, agility is not the place to start training. Agility is akin to a college level curriculum, while engagement is a mandatory pre-school skill that always takes priority over anything else you want to train.
At first she was “not having it”, and couldn’t be bothered to work, no matter how clever I was at making it worthwhile. It took literally months for this dog to finally learn that it is fun to “earn”. And then, there was a major turnaround. Can you believe she is one of my most keen and clever “students”! She learns things so fast these days, with me alone training her. Most recently, it took her just a few short sessions (about a couple of minutes apiece) to pick up a trick I affectionately call “Tailspin”. Here’s a video from a typical Pacific NW kind of day…please excuse the dirty, foggy mess.
These days, this dog begs for a chance to train. She caught the joy! 😉
City dwellers, I feel your pain. So many dog owners are blissfully ignorant of the efforts you go through in your daily dog life. In particular, those who live in multi-story buildings are committed to slogging down the stairs/elevator, around the block, through traffic, for a minimum of an hour a day, just to get your dog relieved. Those of us with a yard who merely open the door (or let the dog nose a flap open) have no idea about what sort of time allotment you’ve dedicated to your best friend. Before getting a taste of your experience, I’d often just heel with my dogs each on one side of me, since I only have 2 at the moment. While it looks cool to have 2 dogs escorting you along, it is not functional when you encounter others in small hallways or staircases. So, I decided to train both of my beasts to walk side by side, tucked tidily close in on my right side (since those of us who drive on the right side of the road tend to like to organize our walking paths by passing that way, too) to keep my body between my dogs and those we pass (left to left). Surely everyone would prefer polite passing.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, training this sort of bundled heeling was harder than I expected. Both of my dogs know how to heel on the right side, but when asked to do so simultaneously, who gets the choice spot next to me? Knowing that the more specific you are with training criteria is actually kinder to dogs than just letting them choose their variation, should I ordain one for the immediate right and the other for 2nd position? That’s sound training logic. My dogs will find it easier to meet the criteria of walking close to my side if there is only one position for them to assume, not 2 to choose from. And the people pleasantly surprised to be able to pass, say “Hello”, and not have to deal with a wet nose or worse on their clothes.
I like the Dog Whisperer. He’s got a sense of humor to go along with a lot of understanding of and experience with bad behavior. But what Cesar Milan does is kind of like the flip side of the coin from what I do. Cesar teaches people how to recover their dogs’ ability to behave by moving them out of excitement and into a more passive state. One of my big goals when working with students trying to develop a performance dog is to help them learn how to wind their dog up, make them super excited about playing (good training is actually playing), and teach the dogs the skills to be able to think while aroused. This is difficult for any animal, humans being no exception. Just look at the fact that sometimes in an emergency situation a person will scream out, “What’s the number to 911?” I’m not making this up. I often use the analogy of teaching our dogs to be able to perform while excited is much like trying to do calculus on a roller coaster. Not only do you need some level of calculus prowess, separately you need to train the skill of being able to function while your bio-chemistry is sending you emergency messages.
So, the answer to the question, “Sort of like the dog whisperer?” is, “Uh, no”. I don’t think Cesar would be very good at what I do, although I’m pretty sure I could teach him. But, to tell you the truth, his path might require him to overcome the dogs being a little “too well behaved”, or, in other words, often shut down. There is a fine line between disciplining your dog (respect must exist for a dog to be bearable to live with (remember, they are your pet, you are not their bitch!)), and shutting your dog down. At this stage of my life, I let my dogs be a little bit more naughty in some ways, because I like it when they have a lot to offer. My dogs jump on me when we train, because I want to have a Disc Dog who will gladly push off of my body to flip through the air for a catch. When I throw a toy out, my dogs fetch by coming bounding back and pouncing into me, bringing the toy right up to the height of my hands, and growl playfully. It’s a lot like the difference between raising a child to be quiet and polite to such a degree that they don’t question and wonder aloud with you. It’s in that latter behavior that you find some of your most treasured expressions of that young human being. But there is a huge difference between your dog walking all over you, or growling for real vs. in play, just like there’s a big difference between a brat mouthing off and talking back to you and a child inquisitively looking at the world through the precious perspective of a young one. And, as the leader or the parent, you will have to, from time to time, sometimes more than others, make adjustments and corrections to make sure your dog or child is on the right side of that fence. So, I appreciate that Cesar is out there, helping with all those “bad kids”, because I much rather invest my time in teaching a training style that allows an individuals (both dog and handler) to blossom 🙂
Yes, I am an overly enthusiastic character with an unforgivable intensity, just praying that you will find that to also be my charm;). Today I’m seeking to let you know that here thrives a unique dog training instructor that would love nothing more than for you to have an even cooler relationship with your dog. I have so many ideas that might just spark off a departure from your daily and launch you into a new hobby that is sure to turn you into a smile spreader.
Keep an eye on this blog and wander the wacky world of a fun-loving, smart, efficient, talented dog trainer and instructor as I encounter a variety of challenges and accomplishments in my professional and personal pursuits of a life full of dogs. We’ll talk about trick training, clickers, clicker training, dog behavior, agility, rally-O, competitive obedience, on-going obedience training, puppy training, shortcuts, eliminating unnecessary aids…I could just go on and on. So, I will, here, with random thoughts to get you thinking. Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts whenever something resonates with you. It’s nice to know your out there with us!