The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyesMarcel Proust
Dog “Training” is evolving at an astonishing pace and in fascinating discoveries. It is fascinating to me how science does not just work mechanically but how it can open us up emotionally and make us more aware and more questioning.
Let me give you a simple example: Remember a while ago when we all thought that “sit” was the be-all and end-all of doggie skills? Sit used to be the ultimate replacement behavior for most unwanted behaviors. “If he sits, he cannot be jumping!” aka: “ Training an incompatible behavior”
Now we have started to think about that. Does the dog enjoy sitting? Can we make sitting enjoyable? Is sitting necessary, or could the dog be reinforced to do something different in the same situation that would work more in tune with the dog’s natural inclinations? Can the dog act like a dog and still be “well behaved”? Can we finally get away from requiring a dog to be at our beck and call like a slave?
But not only that. We are trying to realize that we must delve into the reason why the dog is doing what we define as “mis” behavior. Did we contribute to it in the past by inadvertently reinforcing the behavior?
The biggest change for me has been that I really can experience life differently when I notice my dogs or the dogs I work with, when I appreciate them when they are wonderful. I simply do not focus on the fact that Snorri wanted to lick my abandoned plate on the counter or a table that had orange marmalade on it. I don’t run over screaming that he should STOP IT! I realize he is doing something natural, something I would do if given the chance (and if I had managed the situation perfectly, I would not have left the plate where I did). But I will really let him know when he turns his head away from the plate and lies down on the floor instead!
Even if you say, “but he HAS to come when called immediately!” Yes, that is a “safety” thing; I agree with the sense of urgency. But are you realistic about that? Why have the expectation that they would want to come to you when most of what you do is see the untoward things and give them attention for those?
You are rendering your voice useless if there is no clear reinforcing consequence. Without a memory bank of everything involving you as the best choice always, what is the motivating factor here for them? In fact, one would think that you have a much better chance of them running to you when it is a safety concern of yours if they have a huge memory bank of great satisfaction and reward payoff whenever they choose to come back to you.
This is why I am so struck by the Proust quote at the top. And I am so impressed with the wonderful forward-thinking trainers who constantly want to improve and question our approach to improve themselves and their companion animals’ quality of communication.