Watch Dog – Learning To Do Better

I praise loudly. I blame softly.

- Catherine the Great

I hate blame.  Especially when it comes to dogs and humans trying to co-exist.  Let me tell you a little story that highlights why.

I recently acquired to adorable watches.  One is a vintage Timex from the 50′s, the other is a Lady Hamilton that’s just a bit older.  Neither one was working, and I was hoping the problem was that they each needed a new battery.  So I went to a local jeweler and explained the problem to the gentleman who worked there (and looked all of 19 years old).    He then disappeared in back with both of my watches, returning only moments later with good news.

“It looks like the Lady Hamilton does indeed need a new battery, so we put one in and it’s good to go.”

Awesome!

He then continued, “The Timex doesn’t take a battery.  It’s a wind-up watch. It, uh, just needed to be wound-up.”

I blushed right down to my pretty little danishes.

I blushed right down to my pretty little danishes.

He actually managed to get this out without any trace of sarcasm, condescension nor laughter.  I felt like an idiot already, and I truly appreciated his not adding to my embarrassment.

I personally have never owned a wind-up watch.  I have a general idea of how watches work: you look at them, take them off when showering and doing dishes, and if it stops working, you got to the jeweler to hopefully get a new battery.  Well, now I know more.  Ignorance is a very acceptable excuse in my opinion.  Determination to stay ignorant isn’t.

If I take another wind-up watch to the same jeweler and ask them to put a battery in it to fix it, I’m now a moron.  I deserve blame for not knowing better, because I have learned better.  The same goes for dogs.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

For some reason, people constantly try to blame themselves for their dog’s behavior. I hear a lot of “I tried to do such and such to fix it, but it didn’t work”, and my personal favorite, “I know I did everything wrong”.

First, kudos to you for trying.  Seriously.  You may not know what to do, but you gave it a good effort and a lot of Google searches.  It didn’t work (and maybe it did make things worse), so you called me to help.  I’d call every step of that a success.  Sometimes learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do.

My mother has a saying:

“You’re really going to wear that?

If you keep doing the same thing, and you keep getting the same result, try something different.”  

Combine that with my favorite Maya Angelou quote:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I apply Angelou’s quote to every aspect of my life, including when I’m working with dogs.  The methods I use now are a little different than what they were when I first started training dogs all this years ago – a tweak here, a different word there.  That’s because along the way, I learned a little bit more. I suspect that in another 20 years, my methods will look slightly different than they do now, too. And I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

So stop being hard on yourself.  Yes, maybe you did end up having to call someone out to help with your dog, but now you know better.  And now you’ll do better.

Keep calm and pilot on

Stop Hammer Time: The Problem With Dominance Focused Training

From time to time, we here at Darwin Dogs love to have the thoughts and ideas of others expressed here through guest blog posts.  Today is a fellow trainer, Chris Ramsay, owner of Shaker Hound Academy. Today he shares his thoughts on dominance training.

Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will.
-Yoda

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

So, what kind of issues are you having with your dog?

Well, he thinks he’s alpha. And I need to be alpha.

(Shit. I have some work to do.But not with the dog, with the owner.)

Oh…OK. We’ll circle back to that. What kind of expectations do you have for you and your dog?

Well, he should do what I want, when I want. Immediately. No questions asked. That’s it. And right now he doesn’t. He bolts out the door. Pulls me on the walk. Takes food off the counter. Chews my shoes. Barks at the mail carrier. Jumps on my friends. It’s crazy. No matter how much I yell at him and punish him, he still does it.

So, he makes a bad decision and you ‘bring out the hammer’?

Hell yeah! He shouldn’t be doing any of that!  Am I right?

Yes. You are right. In that he shouldn’t be doing any of that. But, before he makes a bad decision, he’s going to tell you that he’s THINKING about making a bad decision. And *that’s* where you need to intervene to stop the undesired behavior.

You’re saying I need to be able to tell what my dog is thinking?

Yep.

And predict what he’s going to do?

Yep. Or minimum, that he’s in the decision making process.

How the hell do I do that?

You pay attention. And put more tools in your toolbox. Besides that big hammer of yours.

Let’s say you are having a great walk with your dogs. Walking around the neighborhood. They’re walking, sniffing, doing their business like a good dogs. Birds are chirping. Mrs. McGillicutty waves hello from her porch.And then suddenly, they turn off the sidewalk. And stop.Their bodies go stiff. They’re staring into a neighbor’s yard. Stop blinking. There is a squirrel at the base of a tree. They’re transfixed. For a brief period, you could put coffee cups (filled to the top) on their heads, and it wouldn’t spill. Now…what would you say they’re thinking?

We are tired. We need a rest.

No.

We really need to get home to finish our taxes.

No.

If we practiced our 3-point shots more, we could really do some damage from downtown.

Really?

Obviously, they’re telling you they are thinking about chasing that squirrel. Which is normal for dogs as they have millions of years of ancestors as excellent predators. “Apex predators” to be exact. But if you do nothing, if you say nothing, in the dog world, that’s approval. Give them approval, and they’ll run and yank the arm out of your socket every time.My friend and fellow trainer Kerry Stack of Darwin Dogs has a great explanation of this: dogs will constantly ask you questions during daily life. And if you don’t “Pilot” them, answer them AT THE TIME THEY ARE ASKING, they will provide their own answer. Most often, this is not the answer that you want.Military combat professionals have an term for this process: The OODA Loop…Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. And, believe it or not, it applies to dogs just as it does to humans. It’s a repeating loop that animals constantly go through when evaluating their world, especially when there is a stimulus involved. It’s worth looking up.
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For some dogs, this OODA Loop is big and elongated. They see something, keep meandering or don’t even break stride, decide that they don’t want to interact with it, the owner does nothing, and then the dog acts by going about their business. Rarely do I get calls from these owners.Other dogs, lots and lots of others, have a very tight OODA Loop. They see something (observe), and then face the thing they are focusing on (orient) quickly. The owner does nothing. The “decide” and “act” portions will come fast and furious. By the time the dogs hits the “act” portion of the loop, the owner is waaaaay behind the curve. And in reactive mode. I get plenty of calls from these owners.
Intervene at the “observe” or “orient” portions, and you are in proactive mode. And much more likely to have an impact on their behavior. In this immediate instance, and future ones.Want to see humans in the midst of an OODA Loop? Watch the Olympics, down hill skiing. Or boxing. Want to see a crazy tight OODA Loop? Watch table tennis. It’s so fast, you almost have to see it in slow motion to witness the speed around the Loop.Some dog trainers will just focus on bringing out the hammer on the act portion. Mess up? BOOM! You get the hammer! Do it again. I dare you. HAMMER! Again? BIGGER HAMMER!
In my opinion, good trainers will step in at the observe and orient portions in several proactive ways. And with various techniques (using multiple tools in their toolbox) can change the dog’s experience and thought processes to help them make good decisions BEFORE they get too far around the Loop. If you want to put numbers on it to make it easier,: 

ooda-loop-dogs-01-1000

“Observe” would be a 1-2
“Orient”, 3-5
“Decide,” 6-8
“Act”, 9-10

 

One of the difficult things that owners have a hard time grasping is that between 1 and 5, the dog is typically quiet and usually still. They may vocalize at 6, but sometimes not. At 8, the dog is already on the edge to implementing their decision. Whether you like their decision or not. So if the owner is not paying attention, the dog is telling them that they are on their way around the Loop. Remember, no action by the owner is approval. Wait for them to bark and/or lunge and you have missed your opportunity.Being “alpha” is about dominance. Hammer wielding dominance. And, as it turns out, the creator of the term says not to use it any more because it doesn’t apply. Skeptical? Well, check out David Mech for yourself. He’s the guy who invented the term. And the #1 expert on wolves in the United States.
http://www.davemech.org/news.html

 

My advice? Picture yourself as a coach. A leader. An answerer of questions. Not as some pissed off warden with prisoners that need to obey, or else. Humans and dogs should act as a team. With a similar purpose. Aligned agenda. Constantly communicating. Working together towards a common goal. Is there a hierarchy in place? Yes. But not out of dominance. Or fear of the hammer.Pay attention. Guide them. And it will pay off in spades.

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Chris Ramsay, K-9 Specialist at Shaker Hound Academy, has been working with problem dogs (and their problem owners) since 2005. He is a “balanced trainer”, and has helped hundreds of owners achieve a more peaceful and productive relationship with their furry friends. He is based in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and services Cleveland’s east side neighborhoods.