Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Methods, Sheer Madness & Dog Trainers

We live in a world of experts and actors - so who (or what) is the real deal when it comes to the world of dog training?  With all of the information out there how do you screen it out and decide what is right for you and most importantly what is best for your relationship with your dog.

I think it's important to point out that there is just one way to train the dog and that is the science of how dogs learn.  Every trainer is applying the laws of learning theory.

There is absolutely no such thing as "Cesar's Way", "Janet's Way" or "Acme Dog Training's Proven methods" to correct unruly behavior in your dog. You can respond to an informercial, you can buy a book, you can enroll in a dog training school but there aren't any secrets of professional dog trainers that you can purchase for $19.99.  If there was you'd have bought it and you wouldn't be reading this.

All we have and frankly all we need are the laws of learning. Every dog trainer, veterinary behaviorist, and pet owner is applying them (some I might argue better than others) but there is no escaping the science of how animals learn.  Every time anyone interacts with an animal it is learning, every time an animal responds to something in it's environment it is learning.

Every animal and that includes your dog wishes to control what happens to them - it is truly that simple.  Your dog didn't come with a "genetic desire to serve man", nor did your dog come with a "genetic desire to take over the human race".  Your dog is simply your dog, an animal with a desire to affect those things that happen to him.  Believe me when the dog is sleeping on the sofa all he is thinking is "this seems like a nice spot"-your thoughts may differ from his but that is the only thing on his mind.

The dog is moving towards things he desires, wants, finds rewarding and he is moving to avoid those things that he finds unpleasant, non-rewarding, punishing.

So when it comes down to who is or isn't whispering to your dog look at what is happening.  I do want my dog's behavior to improve but are the methods producing a happy dog or are the methods producing a frightened dog?

Because YES the point of training the dog is to create behavior that you prefer but we also need to look at what the costs are to your relationship with the dog.  What price is the dog paying?  What price are you paying?  

You see I can train your dog with old fashioned "yank and crank" methods.  I can put a choke collar on your dog - I can teach your dog to heel through a series of leash pops, I can push your dog into a sit, I can force your dog into a down.  I can praise your dog mightily but all I am doing is training your dog with physical punishment.  Doesn't matter if I am smiling all the while the dog isn't working to please me, he is working to avoid something unpleasant. The wag of his tail is merely his relief that right now he isn't being punished. There is very little doubt that the dog pays a price for this training choice - and done poorly the dog pays a very high price.  He's hurt or he's made afraid. I might get quick results, at least it looks that way when the dog is on a leash (which also happens to be in my hands) but the dog pays a price.  

I can also train the dog with rewards and a reward can be anything the dog wants - food, toys, an opportunity to do something.  Your dog will be moving to experience something pleasant. I think when you train with rewards you pay a price - you have to be smarter.  It will require more of your brain power but in the end you'll also have the enthusiastic wag of your dog's tail and after all isn't that why you got the dog after all?

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