The importance of realizing the difference between training a dog, and communicating with a dog, and why success hinges on knowing the difference.
I hate when my dogs bark at "nothing". I'm sitting on the couch, all cozy with a blanket and a mug of coffee in front of a toasty fireplace and then...
Thank you, Arwen and Ellis (or Arlis as I call them). I was unaware that our neighbor was walking their dog. Yes, indeed, that is a very important thing to be alerting me to, because she is precisely 3.4 minutes slower on this lap around the cul-de-sac than her previous lap. However did I exist prior to you alerting me to these rituals on a daily basis.
To be fair, both dogs stop almost instantly when I give them a negative for this behavior. As I always say, dogs need to be Piloted and have their questions answered. Usually, Arlis were probably wondering if I cared about our neighbor walking their dog, and asked by barking, therefore alerting me. I gave them a negative (as in, "no, I really don't care about them walking") yet Ellis would not stop barking. He was insistent, and I'm so grateful he was, because if I had been trying to train him by dominating him or bribing him, rather than communicating with him, I never would have made a life-or-death discovery.
Dog Training: Are You Dominating, Bribing, or Communicating?
Dominators: Might is Right
Ask yourself what your goal is with your dog. Do you want a robot who is afraid of asking you anything for fear of your answer? Because domination or forceful methods always result in a dog with anxiety and a slew of other behavioral issues, but hey, at least they don't bark! Ever.
And all of the e- collar shock jock dog trainers out there who OnLy UsE iT oN LoW settings, what's your point? You're still not communicating with your dog in a way that's natural to dogs. But hey, if you can't be right AT LEAST BE DOMINANT. Get over yourselves. I could put a shock collar on you, and shock you enough times, I could get you to confess to shooting Kennedy. But it was only on low.
Aside from the brutality of using shock collars or prong collars, if your dog is afraid of asking any questions, how are you supposed to get any input from your dog? Because let's face it, your dog may have a better answer to a situation they are presented with than you do! But how will you ever know if your dog is afraid to speak up?
You are human, not infallible. Allow your dog to be intelligent, and respect that intelligence, just as they respect yours.
There are many, many times where I am corrected by a dog, and I am a better person for allowing them to politely correct me. From being corrected by a dog on our first walk together:
"No, my mom walks me on the left side"
oh...thanks for letting me know
to my dog knowing when not to stop ringing the bell to go outside, even though I know I just let you out 1/2 an hour ago, and you don't.... oh, wait. I see it now. There's a racoon trying get into our duck coop. Good dog!!!!!!!
If your dog isn't comfortable asking you questions for fear of your answers, that doesn't make you dominant, alpha or pack leader *eye roll*. It just means you couldn't come up with a better answer to your dog's question than to stifle their ability to ask the questions in the first place. That isn't an answer, that's abuse. Teaching your dog a lesson is grotesque.
You'll never learn if you only teach. Start hearing what your dog is trying to tell you. Watch them. Hear them. Listen to them. They have so much they can show you if you'd only allow them to teach you as well.
More understandable, but still just as detrimental to training, are those who negotiate with their little terrorist. "If you stop jumping on me, I'll give you a treat." which of course incentivizes the dog to jump again, just so they can get a treat when they stop.
As one client told me after working with a "positive only" trainer:
"They only taught us how to say yes, but not how to say no".
You can't always wait to catch a behavior (or the cessation of a behavior) to throw a positive at it. Sometimes you need to use a negative. Case in point:
Part way through our training session, a client mentioned how she had never been taught to think 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 option to interact. It doesn't answer their question, though, "Can I go in your bag?".
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.
The problem with positives only comes from the selfishness of the people who deal in only positives: it feels good to give a dog a positive, and nobody wants to be the bad guy, and by giving a negative, you're the bad guy, right? No. Let me sum it up like this:
Only your mom will tell you when your face is dirty.
Moms. The one person on the planet who loves you enough to tell it like it is. To give you the negative you didn't want, but definitely needed.
In healthy families, moms are there to give you the negative you didn't want, but definitely needed, "praising loudly and scolding softly", as Catherine the Great stated. Not giving a much needed negative makes a buddy, or a friend, but as my children (and dogs) know, I am not their friend. I'm beyond friend: I'm Mom, and I'll do anything for you, including giving you a negative when you need one, even though it kills me to do so.
By simply avoiding ever giving a negative to your dog, you're creating chaos and unrest. Your dog still has no Pilot and many, many unanswered questions, leading to anxiety, which is just fear of the unknown. Your dog has been asking your for months if that new neighbor you see on the walk occasionally is a threat, yet all you do is try to shove a treat in their face in hopes of distracting them from the actual answer, which is "no". Distraction is never an answer, and it's insulting to your dog's intelligence. Give them a negative, and move on.
Communicating with your dog is how you know there's a problem.
If I had been dominating Ellis, he never would have barked in the first place, and I would have missed an emergency that was happening right outside my window. He would have been too afraid of the consequences of asking a question.
If I had been bribing Ellis, I still would have missed the emergency, because by not negating behaviors, and teaching him that "no, you don't need to bark at squirrels" I would never be able to decipher what was a normal barking fit vs. what was of grave import. In other words, if everything is an emergency, then nothing is. By not setting standards of normalcy, it's impossible to tell what's actually abnormal.
But since I had been Piloting Ellis, and communicating with him, he wasn't afraid to keep barking, even though I had already given him a negative, and Arwen had already stopped. He felt there was an emergency happening, and he felt he needed my attention rather than just wanting it. He knew that it was safe to sometimes mistake wants for needs, and wasn't afraid of making a mistake, because the worst thing that could happen is I would give him a negative, which isn't bad at all.
So I went to see why Ellis wasn't accepting my negative.
There was an elderly woman wandering around the neighborhood front yards, dressed in only shorts and a summertime blouse, despite the temps being well below freezing. She looked bewildered and confused.
I grabbed Ellis and put the leash on him (I don't know why, but it made sense at the moment since he was the one who alerted me in the first place). We went out in the cold and found the woman cold, frightened and terribly confused and disoriented, saying over and over again that she didn't know where she lived. After Piloting the frail woman back to my house (yes, I do it to humans who are panicked) we warmed her up. She said her name was Delores*, and she kept saying it was "her bad brain", and she was in "big trouble", but when I told her that my dog thinks her brain is great, but wanted to double check, she let him up to her, whereupon Ellis greeted her with kindness and love. Much petting and adoration ensued, until we were able to get enough information from Delores to cobble the pieces together and get her to a safe place. I called the police and filed a report with the Ohio Department of Aging for follow up.
And Delores was safe and warm because my dog knew better than to stop barking when I told him to.
*not her real name
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio