Combine the extremes, and you will have the true center.
- Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel
I had a client the other day, we’ll call her Sharon. She had two dogs who were off-the-hook. I call them “No No Bad Dogs”. They weren’t bad dogs really; no dangerous behaviors like resource guarding or dog reactivity. They were just hyper masses of entropy. Totally lovable dogs, though. I’m sure you know and/or own what I mean.
Part way through the training session, Sharon mentioned how she had never thought of interacting with her dogs using methods such as the Paw Method. I asked her to give me an example.
“Well, your training bag, for instance. I notice that every time the dogs start to nose in there, you are using your body language to tell them “no”. That’s not what I would have done, ” she said.
“What would you have done”, I asked.
“Simply removed the bag.”
Sounds like a simple enough answer. If your dog is getting into something, remove what they are getting into. Here’s the problem: simply helping them to avoid something is different than actually training them. For example, I personally have not been trained to never approach a rhino from their blind side, simply because I’ve never met a rhino. See the difference? Removing all interaction with something does not teach an animal how to appropriately interact (or not to interact) with something. It merely removes their choice.
It also doesn’t work because, well, if they are on our couch and you don’t like it, how are you going to remove the couch? Exactly.
Poor Sharon had been through several other trainers before she worked with Darwin Dogs. She had done the X amount of classes, Y times per week for Z hours each time, and still hadn’t seen much progress. She seemed a little frustrated, but still determined, to get her dogs trained. Unfortunately, it would seem as if she had gone to trainers who only used positive reinforcement or strictly negative reinforcement. One trainer had wanted her to deal with everything her dog did/didn’t do by using treats, which as Sharon pointed out herself, was ridiculous. She told me a story about how her one dog managed to steal an entire chicken off of her counter. Her dog, Kally, was running around the house with this chicken! Sharon knew that Kally could get sick from ingesting cooked bones, but remembered what her positive only trainer had told her: offer her a treat! So Sharon approached Kally with her favorite Milk Bone. Kally took a look at the offered Milk Bone, and then promptly ate the chicken. Some things are just higher value than other, and sorry, Milk Bone will never trump a freshly roasted chicken. Not everything can be dealt with using positive reinforcement.
Sharon had another trainer who was the Throat ‘Em and Make ‘Em Cower kind of trainer. Yes, you can get results like that. However, why would you want to? The PAW method focuses on gentle body language, and answering your dog’s questions. ”May I please have the food you dropped on the floor?” doesn’t need to be answered with a tug on a prong collar. A simple, “No” will suffice. Further, bonding occurs when you both share a good experience. I love giving my dogs a positive reinforcement at every chance I (appropriately) can do so because it feels good!
Considering all I was hearing about how many different techniques Sharon had been working with, and how many different trainers, I’m still amazed that she even called Darwin Dogs. That’s what I call the triumph of hope over experience. However, she did. We came, and two hours later, she had both dogs on a leash, and was literally skipping down the sidewalk, both dogs heeling right at her side. I kid you not. Totally made my day.
She’s got a long road ahead of her, but now she has tools in her toolbox. Yes and no. That’s all she needs. You only need two things to know where you are in this world: latitude and longitude. Yes and no. Catch the moments and behaviors you want with positive (latitude). Answer the questions that are being asked, and use “no” every time you must (longitude). Pretty soon your dog will know their place in the world: with a kind, loving, Pilot who happens to be their best friend.
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio