Drilling. It was non-stop drilling. And so much frustration.
I was 20 years old, and just got my first dog (Darwin) and I was solely responsible training my dog. I read all the "dummy" books that were the rage at the time. I researched dog training through every source I could find. All I kept reading about was the drilling.
"Practice command 5 minutes every day."
"Take your new dog outside every hour and when they wake up from a nap."
"Your dog needs at least a 1/2 hour walk every day, twice a day."
1) There were five basic dog commands they wanted me to teach my dog: sit, stay, come, no, and place. 25 minutes a day minimum on repetition.
2) Each trip outside to housebreak my dog was a 10 minute venture, so on average, that was at least 1.5 hour a day spent outside hoping my dog would finally pee outside.
3) I couldn't get down the driveway without my dog dragging me, and I was supposed to walk with them for an hour each day?!
Two weeks into this regime of dog training, I stopped entirely. There had to be a better way.
The Problem with Dog Training
If you're struggling training your dog, I suggest you stop. Right now. Dog training is fundamentally flawed, as you're not really trying to train your dog, are you? You don't train your dog not to jump, you give them an answer about their behavior (jumping is a negative). You aren't training your dog not to drag you on a leash, you are negating their lack of impulse control.
The problem with dog training is that it is designed to give you a specific response to a specific set of stimuli i.e., if you don't jump, I'll give you a treat. If you jump on me, I'll turn my back on you until you choose for yourself whether or not you wish to keep jumping, and then I'll face you again. It's a race to the bottom, with the bar set so low, everyone is tripping over it.
Let's put it in a different context: kids.
Would you ever tell your kid that if they stopped hitting you, you'd give them a candy bar?
Would you turn your back on your child if they were hitting you, only to engage with them again when they finally stopped?
Probably not. You would negate their behavior without resorting to domination. You would guide them back towards correct behavior, rather than negotiating with a little terrorist.
The problem with dog training (and training kids) is that we are waiting and hoping that they will eventually stumble upon the correct "answer" to their behavior themselves, whereupon we give them some kind of positives. That's the triumph of hope over experience.
Why I Quit Training My Dog & Started Piloting
In my mind I had a path I wanted my dog and I to travel together. But we were lost in the woods together. I knew where the path was, but I didn't know how to tell him. He didn't even know there was a path, he thought he was leading me safely through the forest.
I could beat him towards that path, using alpha energy training tactics and domination, but would he ever want to willingly stay with me on that path? Even if he did, was it Stockholm Syndrome? Pure negative energy is a pretty negative experience.
I could also try to bribe and cajole him along the path, clicking and treating any time he showed any hope of finding the path, but I could wait forever for him to head in the right direction. Plus, that makes for a very unhealthy and overweight dog.
Perhaps the answer lay in the middle somewhere. Rather than training my first dog, what if I could guide and answer rather than abuse or negotiate and bribe?
Hence, Piloting was born.
What Is Piloting Your Dog
Nobody's Flying the Plane
The concept of Piloting came to me when I was rewatching one of my favorite childhood movies: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Three people trapped on a plane that's slowly losing altitude. Willy, the female lead, is useless and panics immediately. Short Round, a kid, knows there's a problem, and does the best he can to figure out what to do, which is immediately wake up Indy to get help. Short Round knows he can't Pilot, but he knows someone who may be able to: Indiana Jones.
Ultimately, Indy gets them safely to the ground. Did he do it perfectly? Nope. Was it scary? Yes. Did he have to hurt or cajole anyone to do it? Absolutely not.
Now think about your dog. They are existing in a human world, not understanding much of anything because nobody is flying their plane. They are panic piloting, and that never ends well.
But what if someone actually did know how to Pilot?
The biggest problem with dog training was that there were no answers. It was still incumbent upon the dog to figure out the way to the right path. That's like being given a map of Illinois to navigate around New Dehli. You aren't going to get anywhere, even if you are following exactly what the map tells you to do.
But what if instead of a map, you had a guide with you? Someone who simply tells you at each intersection if you should go left or right? Even if that's all they ever said to you, you'd still find your destination.
Your dog's behavior is New Dehli. You will be the guide to tell them left or right, or in this case, yes or no.
May I jump on you? Nope.
Is that other dog a threat? Nada.
Can we go on a walk? Yeah, let's go!
By answering questions about your dog's behavior as it occurs, you free yourself from constantly being in "training mode" with your dog. In other words, you don't have to schedule training with your dog, because you are traveling that path together.
If your dog strays off path, you gently negate their behavior until they are on the correct path again (or heading towards it).
If your dog is on the correct path (or heading towards it) you give them a positive.
You are starting to communicate with them, rather than manhandle or bribe them.
So now you realize you can answer your dog's questions with a simple, gentle positive or negative. But what about recreating behaviors that you like? That's what training is. But you must start with behavior before you start with training.
In other words, if your dog thinks that it's okay to display a complete lack of impulse control (jumping, running into you, etc.) do you think he's going to show enough impulse control to patiently sit and learn new human words, i.e., commands? No.
In order to train your dog, you have identify behaviors you like and then you have to catch and name the behavior. And you're going to wait forever and get frustrated if you can't guide them through their current behaviors to get the one you want?
Can I jump around and be hyper? Sit.
Can I spin in a circle and bounce off of you? Sit. Sit!!!
Can I go running around the house doing parkour? SIT!!!!! Come here....sit. I said SIT!!!!!
When your dog doesn't even have control of themselves and their impulses, why do you think they are in a mental state of mind to work through the stay command? Or to figure out what you mean by "sit"?
Dog Behavior + Dog Training = Your Best Dog Ever
So let's use both Piloting your dog's behavior alongside dog training.
Can I jump around and be hyper? No.
Can I spin in a circle and bounce off of you? No.
Can I go running around the house doing parkour? No.
Should I calm down a bit? Yes. Excellent job.
Really? Should I focus on you? Yes, now try "sit".
Huh? I don't get it. *gently pushes dog butt down while repeating sit, sit, sit, sit, calmy*
Do you want my butt on the ground? Yes!
And is that what "sit" means? Yes.
Who is the best dog ever? You. Absolutely you.
Dog training without working through your dog's behaviors is a recipe for disaster. Nobody cares that your dog knows a million tricks that you've trained them to do if they are getting bruised like an apple every time they come to your house because you haven't addressed your dog's behavior of jumping.
By combining dog training with dog behavior, you have established what both lack on their own: the correct road map and a competent guide through this journey called life.
To learn more about Piloting your dog, check out these links below:
Dog Behavior & Dog Training
Cleveland & Northeast Ohio