Sunday, November 27, 2011

Random Musings on Dog Training

These thoughts don't reach the status of rules but they are ideas I have that influence how I train. I'm sharing them in no particular order.

If you wouldn't treat your best human friend that way why are your treating your dog like that? I always wonder this when I see people out walking their dog wearing their headphones or earbuds. I can't imagine going for a walk with a human friend and not paying attention to them so I don't walk the dogs without paying attention to them. I'm always interested to see what new things Ranger and to a lesser extent Finna have to show me. Dogs are expert observers. Humans tend to ignore a lot of things in their environment. Dogs don't ignore anything. Ranger shows me where another dog has scuffed up the ground, which neighbors have interesting recycling and/or garbage, who planted a new plant, who is remodeling their house, etc., etc., etc. I used to walk with my next door neighbor regularly before Ranger came to live with us. Despite the fact that we walked the same routes I walk with Ranger and Finna I learned a lot less about my neighborhood. One aspect of our walks is for them to show me my world as they see it. I'd miss out on that if I was tuned into my audiobook or my podcast or my music instead of being tuned into my dogs.

Things are more valuable when you work for them. Maybe the dog is only paying for his/her treats with a sit or a watch but when a dog has to earn the treats they value them more. And I think for the difficult to motivate dogs, like Ranger, making the connection that they need to work for what they get helps to motivate them. Some people call this "TANSTAAFL" There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch and others describe it as "NILIF" Nothing In Life Is Free" but however you describe it it's a useful concept. How would you feel if everything you ever wanted was just given to you? Would you value it as much as when you know that you earned it by dint of your own hard work?

We underestimate our dogs. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I began trying to teach Ranger K-9 Sign more to have a training goal than because I thought he could ever develop language that resembles mine. Since I can't read his mind I don't know for sure that he has but the behaviors I've observed certainly look like language use. He has identified his treat dispensing puzzles as food/toy and identified Catsby as toy. Not only has he used toy as a noun when referring to Catsby he has used the toy sign to Catsby as an invitation to play. In other words, he's taken the small number of signs he has learned to form and used them in other ways.

Privileges are earned. This is one of those ideas that I've adopted from parenting. Ranger can approach any person her wants or any dog he chooses because he has proven time and time again that he is trustworthy and well mannered. Finna doesn't get those same privileges. Ranger can be unleashed outside the fence, Finna can't. As Finna becomes more reliable she'll get more privileges.

Anthropomorphizing isn't always bad. You do need to keep in mind that dogs and humans process information differently and that there are different social and cultural referents but I often find it helpful to try to put myself in the dog's mind and try to figure out where Ranger or Finna is coming from. When Ranger smacks Finna down for shoving herself into his petting session I don't correct Ranger, I support him after all, what he's saying is that rudeness should not be rewarded and that she was just very rude. Of course if Ranger was not controlled in his efforts to discipline his sister he wouldn't be supported but since he is very much in control I support him. With Finna I don't interrupt her games of fetch to give her a bunch of petting after all what she's doing right then is playing her sport, it isn't appropriate to interrupt the game for something else.

Raising a dog and raising a child have a lot in common. In both cases you're putting the needs of another creature above your own. It has been interesting to note how much differently my son views me now that he has Finna to raise. He has a lot more sympathy and patience for his mother than he used to because suddenly he's begun to realize just what it takes. It's a bit strange to talk parenting strategy with my 12 year old but by the same token it's kind of nice.

You dog is dependent on you for everything. We've evolved into a culture where dogs seldom have the freedom to roam or the freedom to choose. We decide when they get exercise; we decide when they eat and what they eat; we decide where they can be; we decide whether or not they can come with us. The more I thought about this the more I started trying to give Ranger opportunities to make choices. We used to play ball for a few minutes every morning before his walk and after a few minutes I'd offer him the ball in one hand and the leash in the other and the one he touched is what we'd do. If he touched the leash we'd go for our walk, if he touched the ball we'd play ball for a little longer. Anymore when I take him to the dog park I let him choose when we leave (unless I have other pressing obligations); I'll ask him if he's ready to go and if he heads toward the gate we'll leave, if he heads further into the park we stay longer. Finna doesn't get much chance to make choices yet because I consider choice a privilege not a right.

Just as with parenting there are a lot of different routes to the goal of raising a well-adjusted individual. And just like kids dogs are individuals. Things that worked with my daughter are useless with my son and things that worked with Ranger are not helpful with Finna. You need to know the individual you're raising and deal with them accordingly. One size doesn't fit all although it's often true that one size will fit most. I often see people who are looking for the quick fix. Two popular quick fixes I see and hear recommended often are the no-pull head halters and no pull harnesses and the e-collar or to be blunt the shock collar. If these are used as an adjunct to training they can be useful but I see a lot of people who are using them instead of training. That makes me sad.

And finally, the most useful thing I've ever learned about how to raise a good dog; find someone whose dog(s) you really like and watch what they do with their dogs. Steal everything that you think would work with your dog(s). I've been blessed to meet a lot of dogs I really like and I've never hesitated to copy what their humans do. When Ranger likes a dog I'm almost certain to like that dog's person/people. This is something I found true with my children as well. When I like the kid I'll like the parents and my children were mostly pretty good at selecting playmates and friends that I would like.

There are no hard and fast rules in raising a dog or raising a kid except to love them with all your heart and to do your very best to do right by them. I kind of figure if you're doing that the rest will fall into place.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, I'll cop to using headphones while dogwalking. I would never have done that in Pupper's salad days, when I had to be aware of other dogs, and be prepared to forestall her fear-aggression. But as Pupper has aged, and slowed, and gone deaf, walks have become more and more sedate. Whereas we used to run 6 blocks to the dog park, go around 4 times, with her chasing a ball the entire time and get back home within 45 minutes, now we traverse 8 blocks in our city park in about an hour. After watching Pupper circle around and around the picnic tables, looking for edibles (which is her main goal in life, and a big part of why she still gets up in the morning), I started listening to NPR's Morning Edition. I still keep an eye on her, she still gets massages when her back legs falter, and treats when we go past people (still a little scary). We're like an old married couple; scrounging at the picnic tables is her version of the crossword puzzle, and I'm listening to the news. We're both aware of each other, and even while pursuing different interests, are glad to be together.