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Pressure on +R Dog Training: Don’t give in to it.

In 2001, I wasn’t as knowledgeable about  dog behavior as I am now or as confident so during a visit with a friend’s dog, a dog that had gone after my puppy on more than one occasion, I caved into the pressure of others around me; I allowed the dogs to visit without me in the vicinity.  What I thought would happen did happen and it was me who was breaking up the one sided attack while my friendly puppy Quinn, wanted to continue playing.  He turned out to be a great dog in spite of these early problems.

As a positive reinforcement trainer, I’ve experienced my share of pressure and doubt from outside sources and still do on occasion.

In the early days of having brought Sadie Mae in my life, I had people around me offering opinions and advice. I was in the ‘middle’ many times; the ‘middle’ being keeping my dog feeling safe and my guests happy.  It was a social ‘dance’ of keeping everyone from being embarrassed and pleasing them and honouring my dog at the same time.  A very difficult dance to say the least.

Everyone has an opinion on dogs and how to teach them and the pressure to use punishment can be great.  It makes us doubt ourselves sometimes, especially when the problem behavior isn’t ceasing and you’re feeling embarrassed, frustrated and angry.

My advice: don’t cave to the pressure but follow what your heart and your gut are telling you. When you bow to outside pressure, you put others before your dog and her needs when she needs you to be her advocate and teacher.

Quinn's 1st night home

Quinn & Catherine 2000

If you know better BUT you choose to listen to others and ignore that ‘inside’ voice,  don’t blame those that pressure you.

A big part of life is how we choose to react and you have a choice to respond and follow their suggestions or NOT.  Positive reinforcement training is not fully understood by many if they’ve never used it to train an animal so you’ll have to forgive them for their ignorance and educate if you so choose.

That day, I was furious with the people that I allowed to pressure me.  But that soon changed to anger with myself for not following what I truly felt was best for my dog. I realized it was my choice to cave to the opinions of others.   It exposed something within me and I didn’t like it; lack of belief in myself.  Hence, it became a learning experience.

I made the decision, the commitment, to never cave into pressure again if I felt it wasn’t what I truly wanted.

Move away from the pressure, tune it out, explain why you are choosing another way (if you wish too) but do not give into the wants of others who are NOT in your shoes, who do not know your dog. You know your dog better than anyone, than any trainer and always, always do what you think is right, what is best, based on your knowledge at the time and your experience. Its all we have at any given time.

Address your dog with a do no harm approach and you won’t go wrong.

No ‘dog whispering’. Just train the dog!

We all know about the idea that a select few just ‘have it ‘ with dogs.  A ‘special way’, ‘dog whisperer’ and on it goes.

Don’t sell yourself short because the truth is, everyone can train dogs, but it just might be a trainers style (you), their nuances, that stands out more than others.

Every trainer and every dog guardian connects differently with dogs and so it goes that the way the training is applied, will vary with each.  I hear it often; “Oh she does this only for you.” “How do you get that? We can’t”. There is no magic on my part or on any good trainer’s part but just a personal style and for me, its always with a ‘do no harm’ approach.

Hound face

dog training

In dog training, its a matter of how the training is applied, your timing, your patience level and your personal expectations.

Want to be a better teacher for your dog? Slow down and listen to your dog.

The biggest mistake I see in dog training is expectations that are too high resulting in frustrated guardians and confused dogs.   You must remove your own agenda and lower your expectations and always work at the dogs level with an attitude of wanting to help your dog succeed.

What does that look like?

If your dog is ‘failing’ to understand what you want him to do, you’ve gone too far. You’ve asked too much of him. You’re the teacher for your dog so its on you to adjust yourself, your style, your timing, your criteria, etc., to HELP your dog succeed.  Just like its my job to help clients understand the training and to implement the training. If need be, call in help from a positive method trainer (+R) but the best tip I can give has just been said:

lower your expectation.

Start where your dog is successful and build slowly from there.  On the most basic level, look at what you’re doing and if it isn’t working over and over then stop and make a change.

Keep it fun and don’t blame the dog!


Egos, Choices and Mirrors

‘Its just behavior’ she says!

Working with dogs for many years, I’ve experienced allot of behavior that I could have taken personally. From humping, lunging, nipping and outright jaws clamping on my arm to ignoring me completely. Through all of it, I’ve never taken offense to these behaviors because dog behavior is neutral to me; its just behavior.  My responsibility lies in how I choose to respond to the behavior.

First let me preface with this belief; Dogs:
*Don’t walk around plotting against humans and looking for ways to piss off humans
*Do what works for THEM
*Need their human to guide him/her benevolently in the human world 

So why do humans choose punishment over reinforcement and kindness when they interact and train? Why, if a dog is just a dog whose behavior is motivated by the innate sense to feel good (even when it doesn’t look like it), do we choose to cause pain and fear?  Yes, lunging, barking, biting is meant to create distance so the dog can feel safe.  Thats the purpose, the want.

Regardless of your experience or knowledge, how you choose to train/teach your dog is a choice.  If you choose to use punishment when you interact or use it to teach your dog, be it yelling, physical punishment, threat of punishment, emotional pressure, punitive equipment or something as subtle as a yank on the leash to stop unwanted behavior, it’s a choice that you make, not a choice you have to make.

It could be you’re angry, frustrated or emotionally hurt but whatever the motivation, in a small or large way, it emanates from your ego. It’s a symptom that your ego is playing a role in your reactions and in your behavior. Are you offended by your dog’s behavior? That’s your ego! And you don’t’ need a big ego to be offended!  If you are choosing punishment to get what you want at the expense of the dog then it’s your ego making those choices.

It may be what you’ve always known and done, or a trainer taught you or IS currently teaching you (find a positive reinforcement trainer!) or punishment is working so I’ll keep doing it.  Regardless of the excuse, your dog is paying the price of your choice!

The ‘mirror’ effect exposes what we are feeling

If punishment works and reinforcement works (with so many benefits), it stands to reason that how you choose to train your dog says something about you. And it’s through your reactions to their behavior, and the choices you make, you expose yourself.  This is where the ‘mirror’ effect comes into play.

Dogs have an unknowing ability to expose a little bit about who we are on the inside, whether you like it or not; whether you choose to see it or not.

Whether it’s the good or the not so good, dogs will expose your weaknesses or your strengths, your patience or lack thereof, anger and frustration issues, confidence or lack of it, self-importance issues or empathy and a myriad of other emotions and feelings.

Isn’t dog guardianship supposed to be pleasant and rewarding?

When you use punishment, you’ve gone to a negative mindset to apply the punishment thus you are experiencing more negativity. You’re looking for what’s not wanted instead of seeing all the good or wanted behaviors. You miss opportunities to reinforce and a missed opportunity may be a step backwards in training

When you choose to cause fear and pain you may stop behaivor and get what you want but there will be the destruction of trust from the dog, IN YOU?

Here’s the beauty of Dogs:

They’re ‘accidental’ teachers if you are willing to step back and receive the silent message; the message you can feel and know in yourself if you are brave enough to look for it.   Are you willing to ask?:

Why am I choosing to use punishment to teach my dog instead of reinforcement?
Is this the best I can do for this dog?
Can I do better?

Dogs are teachers. Their method of teaching  exposes us to ourselves. It’s a beautiful gift they give us but it requires 2 actions on our part; to be open and to be vulnerable and that is hard.  It’s a risk.
But it’s a good risk because it says we are open to change for the better. When you know better, you do better.

You can Thank your dog for that!