Friday, August 5, 2022

Train Smarter Not Harder

Whether you're starting out with a new puppy, trying to survive the adolescent or teenager phase, or have an adult dog, it's very easy to get caught up in the thought that you need to train your dog more.  Most dog trainers will admit they spend so much time training other people's dogs that they skip formal training with their own dogs.  As a lover of intelligent dogs, you'd think I spend a huge chunk of time training my dogs.  NOT

Then you have the common issue of people only seek out training help when their dog has 1 or more behaviors that the owner or family doesn't like.  Maybe the dog barks & lunges at strangers or pulls to greet them over enthusiastically, both of which are unsafe for the stranger and the owner holding the leash.

This is just a guess, speaking from experience, but I believe most trainers spend less time "training" their dog simply because they know from the beginning what canine behaviors they want from their dog and teach them those good behaviors make great things happen.  Most trainers are also very skilled at managing the environment, creating boundaries where needed, to prevent their new dogs from practicing unwanted behaviors in the first place.  For example if your dog loves to countersurf, putting up a gate to keep them out of the kitchen can prevent the dog from perfecting their skill in that department. With puppies I restrict their movement inside the house with closed doors and gates, slowly increasing access as they learn to leave people items alone.  Early management can make a huge difference in the amount of training you need to do in the future!

It's all about training proactively instead of reactively.  As a former dog rescue trainer and working with clients who often wait till their dog is driving them crazy to get help, I've seen and dealt with almost every dog behavior out there.  The behavior is the action the dog is doing, not a definition of who the dog is or can become.  Putting a label on a behavior, such as REACTIVE, can actually cause more harm than good when it comes to how we think about and conduct training.  Often we use the terminology "the dog is reactive" to describe seeing behaviors such as barking, lunging, pulling, and/or jumping on other people or dogs.  The trouble is calling them "reactive" doesn't tell us how to proceed with training.  

While some trainers set out to "train a behavior out of them" that is not how I want to treat me dogs or any animal.  This implies that we are punishing or correcting the dog for the rude behaviors.  Instead I focus on WHY the dog is doing the most cases it's either fear based or over-excitement based, both of which involve an emotional response.  If a dog finds that new person scary, their nervous system goes into fight or flight impulse, either trying to run away or trying to scare that object away from us both of which increases the distance between frightened dog and the perceived intruder.  If the dog finds that new person mega exciting their emotions sky-rocket to a point that they are no longer able to regulate their impulsive behavior, again this often leads to an increased distance between the dog and the distraction as the owner tries to escape the situation.

In both reactive situations, our training sessions should be designed around teaching the dog better cooping skills.  We can teach them to process the environment more fully to increase their feeling of safety.  And we can teach them to process their social emotions more effectively.  Both will lead to a calmer and happy dog and owner!  Then once their emotions are not running away with their impulsiveness, we can teach them the behaviors we do want in those situations including proper greetings or a "safe" behavior that helps dog know their owner will advocate for them.  Azul being super social and loving people interactions had to learn behaviors for proper greetings.  Cam on the other hand was never going to be happy with random strangers petting him so instead he learned that if he was in a heel (our default position) that I would not let random people reach toward him.  This allowed him to hit a point where he will gladly step into the heel position when he feels nervous for any reason.  We also trained an emergency sitting position for times when a stray dog was running our way.  So Cam automatically heels when he sees the dog, then if the dog comes to close he sits which allows me to then step between him and the dog no matter which direction the dog is coming from.  Cam holds his sit while I block the dog therefore Cam rarely barks or lunges at another person or dog because he simply doesn't need to anymore.

In this theme of "Train Smarter, Not Harder!" I'm going to be addressing how you can teach concepts like environmental processing, social processing, self regulation, increased impulse control, and hopefully get all the way to a post or two on intelligent disobedience.  Subscribe to this blog in the right hand column so you can be sure to learn about easier ways to train your dog!

Want to learn more about helping your dog feel safe?

T-Touch is rapidly growing in popularity!  I'm learning more about how it works and hope to one day be a certified T-Touch Trainer.

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