The Difference Between Dogs and Kids

 Alicia Jones @amjay_7


Alicia Jones
@amjay_7

Raising children is a creative endeavor, an art rather than a science.
- Bruno Bettelheim

I had a parent a few weeks ago ask me if I knew how to train kids.  I find the question funny both because I hear that a lot, and because there really isn’t much difference between raising kids and raising dogs.  Neither are (fully) domesticated, both emit strange odors, and each are a joy to come home to, regardless of what kind of mischief they’ve gotten into in the past few hours.  To answer the parent’s question, I sent her this article from a few years back.  Eric and River are currently 12 & 10, but still amazing, wonderful kids.

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I dragged my kids (Eric, 9 and River, 7) yesterday to Jo-Ann’s.  That’s right up there on the “fun-o-meter” as getting vaccinations for them.  I spent about 20 minutes trying to find what it was that I needed.  They stuck right by me.  As they passed in front of someone standing in an aisle, they politely said, “Excuse me”.  As we left, the cashier wished me a happy holiday.  I wished her the same thing.  My children chimed in with “Have a great day!”.  They followed me out to the car, with Eric automatically taking River’s hand to help her across the parking lot.  I put on their favorite song in the car, to which the both said, “Thank you” as soon as the first few notes became recognizable.

Magic?  DNA jackpot?  Nope.  Repetition, repetition, repetition.  My children know what good manners are and are able to execute them because of a couple of factors.

  • I set them up for success.  River has problems behaving if she hasn’t had enough protein.  Eric can become overwhelmed in crowds.  Both are very hyper and need outlets for their energy.  If I take River to the store right before lunch after she’s been on the computer all morning, well, then, it’s my fault if she “misbehaves”, isn’t it?  I know the parameters within which she’s capable of behaving.  If I drag her outside that area, how is she supposed to behave?  It’s like taking a car off the road and into a lake, and then wondering why it isn’t working properly.
  • I give a negative when necessary.  I don’t like people being treated in a dismissive fashion, be it a waitress, cashier or any other individual, for that matter.  I want my children to have the same mind-set.  That person behind the counter isn’t a robot, they are a human, and worthy of good manners.  Sometimes when I’d be completing a transaction, my children’s minds would float off.  The clerk would wish me a good day, and I’d thank them and wish them a pleasant day as well.  My children would sometimes forget to reply in kind.  ”Excuse me?”, I would say to them, giving them an opportunity to fix their omission. They usually give the appropriate response at that point. Sometimes a bit more negative is necessary.  The other day, both kids were being little wretches in the car.  They had been set up for success, as I described above, but they started bickering in the car.  I reminded them twice that this behavior was unacceptable.  They started again.  They each lost use of their computers for two days as a result.  No, I don’t like doing that to them, but my job as a parent isn’t to always like what I do: my job is to parent. Just as I don’t enjoy taking my kids to the doctor for vaccinations and causing them (temporary) discomfort, it’s for the greater good, so I yuck it up and do it anyway.
  • I praise/reward behavior that I want.  How much does a word of praise cost you?  Nothing.  When my children passed in front of the person in the aisle at Jo-Ann’s and used good manners, I complimented them on their manners.  When we got to the car, I put on their favorite song as a tiny reward for their behavior in purgatory Jo-Ann’s.  I do expect good manners from them, but manners can become linked with a positive.  In their minds, being well-behaved can get them anything from a word of praise (often) to a trip for ice-cream (less often, but still feasible).  Manners are good because when used, something good usually happens.
River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

Pretty soon my kids were on auto-pilot.  They can fly through most situations without prompts from me, navigating the complexities of manners quite nicely.  Until the day I die, I will still compliment them on their manners whenever presented the opportunity to do so.  Again, what does a kind word cost you?  Nothing.

So you’re probably wondering, When does this article start to talk about dogs?  Isn’t that why I’m here?  Who’s to say I haven’t been talking about our canine companions the whole time?  Raising dogs and kids, to some degree, isn’t much different.

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  • I set them up for success.  Cody is a 9-month old Labradoodle.Labradoodle (n.) – Latin for perpetual motion.  See also: Hyperactivity.  Frivolity.Cody is an exceptionally sweet, kind, and loving animal. But at this young age, he has a very distinct set of circumstances that need to be adhered to to attain good behavior. For example, right now Cody is contentedly sleeping on the floor by my feet as I work on my computer.  This didn’t just happen.  I knew I needed to get some work done today, so Cody got an extra does of the PAW Method.  I gave him his Activity when we went for an extra long walk while wearing his backpack.  We then handled his Work needs by working on some new tricks with him and then feeding him through his enrichment feeder.  He is set up for success now.
  • I give a negative when necessary.  I’m ready to work, but Cody starts asking me a lot of questions:

    Can I play with the cat?  No.  Can I throw my ball around? No.  Can I play with the cat?  No.

I will continue to answer his questions as he asks them.  The first time he asks me about the cat, I use gentle negative body language from my seated position.  The next time he asks, I get up and “claim” the cat with my body, using much stronger body language.  Cody’s response?  Okay! Got it…so that’s a “no” on the cat then, right?

  • I praise/reward behavior that I want. Cody grabs a chew toy and plops down by my feet.  That’s a couple different positives I need to address there: he’s calmed himself down, and he’s redirected himself in an appropriate manner (the chew toy).  I give him a few seconds to “settle in” to this behavior, and then I gently start scratching his head.  He doubles down on the chew toy, so I up my ante and start to give him some very gentle very softly-spoken praise (I want him calm, so riling him up would be my bad).  He continues along the righteous path.  I stop petting him so I can start working, but every few minutes give him a word of gentle praise.  Pretty soon he drops his chew toy and puts his head down.  He’s ready to sleep.  I whip out the big guns:  a single Cheerio.  Cody is in the process of learning what’s acceptable behavior.  He needs to have his positive behaviors marked with a pretty strong positive.  That’s how he learns what we want from him.  Catching the moment.  I try to catch as many of his moments as I can, which means a lot of Touch, Talk, Treat.  He’d get sick on so many larger treats, so I use Cheerios.  Eventually, I’ll start to wean off the treats and focus on touch and talk.  But for now, he’s still learning.

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It’s a process.  I expect mistakes (mostly from me).  It’s difficult, but oh so rewarding.  I don’t expect perfection; that’s only at the end of the rainbow.  What you’re working for is much more precious than perfection:  you’re working towards being a family.  That’s even better than perfection.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Just a Bit Off the Top – Working with Aggressive Dogs

  Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.

   – Thomas Merton

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If you know anything about Darwin Dogs, you know that we don’t cotton much to extremes of any kind.  Extreme thinking is, well…rather extreme.  Not every behavior issue can be resolved with a click and a treat, and not every dog behavior requires a shock collar.  There is plenty of room for moderate, balanced training.

A few years ago I was presented with a very difficult dog named Chex to train.  Chex’s owner was very forthcoming with the issues.  He bit.  Everyone.  And not just a nip, it was all out aggression.  His owner, we’ll call her Annie, was concerned because she had already had another trainer out there.  I assured Annie that it was a situation that could be worked with.

I walked in the door and met Annie’s partner, Susan.  Susan was being followed by a very docile looking Border Collie mix.  This looked so much easier than what I had been preparing for!

“Oh, this isn’t Chex!  This is Sadie, my dog”, Susan informed me.  “Annie is in back with Chex.  She wanted to make sure you were safely here before she brought him out.”  Great.   I asked her to bring out Chex.

Out came a writhing 35 pound mass of dog, dragging his owner at the end of a harness.  Chex was out for blood. There was an intruder in the house (me!) and Chex felt the need to let everyone know that this wasn’t okay, and the situation was dire!

This is what Chex looked like to me.  Only a little less stable.

This is what Chex looked like to me. Only a little less stable.

Chex was in full-out panic mode.  His choices of flight or fight having been reduced by the fact he was restrained by a leash, he went all out on fight.  I knew I had to get him under control as quickly as possible.  That’s where I made a mistake.  See, Chex was on a harness.

Harness. n
1. an arrangement of leather straps buckled or looped together, fitted to an animal in order that the animal can be attached to and pull an item more easily and efficiently, such as a cart, or a human.

A harness offers no control (read: safety) for a human.  The dog is able to go teeth first towards whatever item they want.  That’s one of the reasons we use collars, so when held at arm’s length, a dog can’t put teeth to flesh quite as easily.  Unfortunately, Chex was looking for any place to put teeth, making this a very dangerous situation.  My choices:  ask them to take him into the back room again and put a collar on him that I had, or simply take the dog and work with him immediately, knowing full well I’d probably take a bite.

Of course I chose the latter.

As Annie tried to hand Chex over, he jumped up and bit me on the thigh.  It took some effort, but I managed to disengage him from my leg and kept him at arm’s length while using my body language to keep him from connecting.  After “dancing” with him for about 5 minutes, he calmed down enough for me to have his owners place the safety collar around his neck, and then we went for a walk.

The aftermath.  I called this bite The Eye of Sauron because of how it bruised.  Yes, I name any bites I receive. Hobby needed - pronto.

The aftermath. I called this bite The Eye of Sauron because of how it bruised. Yes, I name any bites I receive. Hobby needed – pronto.

Chex tried to attack me at least 5 more times during our walk.  I maintained calm boredom in between attacks, but when he did attack, I gave him a negative answer.  You simply can’t put a positive spin on, “Can I attack you now?”.  The answer must be a negative, and it must be given clearly.  The first attack inside the house was the worst, and resulted in an impressive bite.  By the time he attacked for the 5th time, it was a half-hearted attempt on his part…at best.  After our 10 minute walk, Chex and I went back into the house to meet with his astonished owners.  I explained to them that Chex was trying to protect them from everything.  He was actually a very frightened dog.  Nobody made him that way. Dogs have personalities, too, and they run from Hippie to Rambo, just like we all do.  Let’s just say that Chex wouldn’t have been caught dead at Woodstock.

Rambo_DogAnnie and Susan were amazing.  They understood how important it was for them to get this right.  Their dog wasn’t attacking people because he was a jerk – he was frightened!  After explaining the need for positive and negative reinforcement, and the proper times to give each, I took Annie on a walk.  We passed by a crazy old woman with her dog  off-leash lunging at us – a situation that would have set Chex to nuke-mode.  Chex merely eyeballed the other dog, eyeballed the old woman (who yelled at us for walking our dog on the sidewalk in front of her house and thereby making her dog go ballistic).  It was extremely anti-climatic from Chex’s and Annie’s point of reference.

After our session, they mentioned the other trainer they had gone through.  It was a click-n-treater.  Positive only.  They said she came in for 1/2 hour and was greeted with the same reaction from Chex that I had been treated to.  She refused to go near Chex, and proceeded to diagnose him from a distance.  Her expert opinion?

He’s bi-polar.  Oh, and probably had a bad past life.  That’ll be $75 for the visit, please and thank you.

I’ve heard from Annie since our session.  She said he’s a different dog now.  She answers his questions, and he doesn’t seem fearful any more.  He’s a dog now, instead of a mess of teeth and hate.

I train dogs.  I don’t train puddles of pudding with no personality.  Each dog I work with has a definite personality, from the “No-No Bad Dogs” to the heavy hitters like Chex.  The object is to retain the dog’s personality, but moderate it to accommodate a human world.  The “No-No Bad Dogs” need to have their questions answered (“Can I jump? Can I race around the house knocking things over?”) just as much as the Chex dogs do (“Should I attack that person before they attack us?”).  The nuance is not to create a robot in the process.  Chex is still Chex.  He hasn’t been turned in to a perfect little machine covered in fur.  He has his personality intact.  We’ve just skimmed the unsavory stuff from the top, and left the happy, mischievous dog in place.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs

Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio