Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
The Problem: Your dog won't let you put his collar on, he just walks away. You call him, sometimes he comes, sometimes he lays down where he is. You ask him to sit and he just stands there looking at you. He's defiant, right? According to the internet, it's time to start some harsh corrections for that inattention and disobedience. Actually, no. This dog isn't being defiant per se. He's been living in a home without any type of positive reinforcement in the form of treats. He's gotten plenty of physical attention, but not one snack. The backstory: His allergies had led his owner to discontinue using treats in his training starting when he was 12 weeks old. Now he's 2 years old, and while he appears defiant, he's actually just trying to figure out what's in it for him. Basically, whether he does what he's asked, or he doesn't, there really isn't any consequence he cares about that much. I spoke to their veterinarian and we determined that a single ingredient treat could be used with this dog for training purposes. Once we re-introduced treats to reinforce executing the correct behaviors promptly, and used the lack of treats for behaviors executed slowly or not at all, suddenly this dog was doing exactly what he'd been asked. He wasn't defiant at all, he just wanted to get paid. Final Thoughts: Research shows that while dogs enjoy being told they've done a good job and they do like to receive physical attention (pats/strokes) from their owners, what they really love and value most are treats.
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
I worked with a client over the weekend who has a rather "defiant" young adult dog. I'm putting defiant in quotes because that's a loaded word that implies that her dog was willfully non-compliant and resistant. What I saw wasn't really defiance per se, but a bored dog who had been receiving inconsistent reinforcement from the owner and other caregivers, creating a situation where the dog appeared to be doing nothing since when he did something, right or wrong, he never knew that his behavior had consequences! I got the dog's attention on me (that chicken in my pocket once again!) and started reinforcing very basic tasks such as touching my fingers, staring at my feet, sitting, laying down, and letting me pick up one of his paws. Each of these behaviors received verbal reinforcement and a bit of chicken. I explained to the owner that every behavior has a consequence and she needs to show her dog those consequences. She said, "That's easy for you to say!" She then asked if I wanted to move in, because clearly her dog was only going to listen to me! At this point, I needed to give the dog something to chew on so I could delve a little deeper with this owner.
You see, it isn't that it's easier for me than it is for the dog owners I work with, it's simply that with more than 30 years of experience, I know what works and what doesn't. My job is to be like those crib notes we used back in high school in college; I'm here to summarize and condense all of the learning and techniques you should be using into one easy-to-follow game plan. And for the frustrated dog owners who've said to me, "Well, of course, this works for you! Your dogs are probably perfect!" I'm here to tell you, my dogs are not and have never been perfect. And I love them just the same. No, really. Every dog I've ever owned had some issue or some quirk that needed work. My first dog, a Westie, had the worst recall. He was a terrier who followed anything that moved. My Border Collie mix Shadow? She was incredibly fearful and anxious. She lived under a coffee table in my apartment for the first 3 months we lived together. Anyway, you get the picture. I've never once suggested that a client use a technique or method that I've not already done myself. I practice what I preach: positive reinforcement, easy to understand consequences, and rules that are easy to follow and don't change. My dogs know that if they bark incessantly there will be a consequence and that consequence has never changed. I teach owners to do it the same way. Same with recall. I play recall games with my dogs and work on a long line when teaching recall with distractions in public settings. I do it the same way with clients and their dogs.
Turns out, I am what researchers are now calling an "authoritative pet parent." This doesn't surprise me given that this designation comes from the human parenting research which places human parents into three categories, authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive, and I was (and am) an authoritative human parent as well. My client with the "defiant" dog? She was a permissive pet parent. I'm going to post the study that looks at pet parenting style tomorrow on my business website. Here it is, just in case you don't follow my page regularly: https://www-sciencealert-com.
Managing behavior problems isn't easy for anyone, even professional dog trainers, behaviorists, or veterinarians. Behavior problems are challenging for all of us. I will never tell you that they are easy to fix as I feel that saying that trivializes what is going on with your pet. What I WILL tell you is that we can work on a management game plan that includes actionable, proactive methods that can be used to get those behavior problems under control. And those methods will be ones I've used on my own pets too. Nothing like being the proverbial guinea pigs for any new method I try, just ask Ozzie and Desi!
My client from the weekend has already sent me her first progress report and she and her "defiant" dog are off to a great start. Just goes to show that it was easy for me to say AND, more importantly, easy for her to do.
As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.