…let’s ‘carpark’ that idea
Ever played ‘Management Bingo’? Words like ‘throughput’, ‘pushback’, ‘customer-centric’… Brand new phrases that give a fancy spin to something old and familiar, to give it a glossy spin of new discovery.
Nowadays, we are in grave danger of doing this with our dogs, and it’s worryingly prevalent. I read the other day that a trainer commented they do ‘positive dog training with balance’. *Cringe*
There are so many techniques, magical phrases and slogans bandied about these days it’s a challenge to keep up. How on earth can a dog owner know what they are going to be getting from their chosen trainer? Can we trust what dog experts on TV actually say? Are they blinding us with jargon, or did they just make it up? Are we at risk of too many technical terms with not enough meaning, trying to sound more important than they really are?
Hopefully I don’t do this myself but I suspect I do. So, to atone for our sins, I wanted to write a little about what I feel should be the underlying philosophy of working with and training dogs, no matter what you call it!
What is wrong with making sure the dog does not rampage round your house destroying everything in its path? Nothing. Why would you allow your dog to run off lead on the streets or charge up to other dogs in the park? You wouldn’t. If your dog was chewing on your hand, you would stop it – wouldn’t you?
It is normal to make sure these things cannot or will not happen. It’s part of dog ownership, nothing new about that. Don’t allow your dogs to do things that you find unacceptable, but accept that they will try. They are dogs after all! If just being fair and clear to a dog suddenly becomes something otherworldly called ‘balance’, what have we all been doing all these years?
The question lies in the ‘how’ to do these things, rather than what it’s called – that is where the true skill lies. And no, skill does not mean squashing a dog flat.
The word ‘dominant’ is gone (apart from a few dinosaurs clinging to a meal ticket, maybe), but oddly, the word ‘submissive’ is not. ‘Alpha’ has been withdrawn by the term’s initial advocate, David Mech (see it on youtube, here). Terms that, for a dog, are supposed to imply some magical curative factor involving throwing your weight around and acting just a bit macho.
Let’s move on from these ‘management bingo’ specials, and look at what is needed here. Forget old-fashioned hierarchical ‘alpha’ theories. Dogs are great opportunists. If you have an animal in front of you that wants something badly enough, they are going to stand up for themselves to try and get it. I don’t just mean food, and toys. I mean places, comfy spots, patches of sunlight, people, smells… anything that a canine could desire. In fact, sometimes what they want most of all is to get away from a situation.
Some dogs are likely to stand up for themselves more than others, for lots of reasons. It doesn’t mean they are taking over with malicious intent to own the world. So, if you have a dog that is desperate for all these sorts of things, think smart. Use those desirable things to help you gain control. And gaining control does not mean squashing a dog flat, either.
Positive Dog Training
This is the least understood one of all. Somehow it has taken on this ‘softie’ level of ridicule, where if trainers say they use ‘positive methods’, they are supposed to be sitting on cushions singing to the dog, or something equally ineffective. I have news for you. Clickers are not castanets! Trainers are supposed to be foolishly waving a cookie under a dog’s nose when it is supposedly in the (awesomely ridiculous title) ‘red zone’. Says who? I ask the question again – if that is the case, what on earth have successful trainers been doing all these years?
Correction/Rehabilitation (used in a ‘correction’ context)
Any fool can push a dog to try and bite them, that’s pretty easy. You ask the owner what their problem dog doesn’t like, and then you do exactly that, and hey ho, the dog is in the ‘red zone’. The dog didn’t have a choice in the matter and has been deliberately provoked. The important part is – the words make it sound acceptable.
Replace made up words like ‘red zone’ with the true representation of the dog’s reaction. Ask any Vet or qualified behaviourist, as they are trained to recognise physical signs of distress. They use accurate descriptions such as ‘panic reaction’; ‘pushed beyond coping’? It gives a whole new, true meaning. ‘Oh look the dog is pushed beyond coping, it is trying to bite you’. This is not something any trainer would be proud of admitting to.
Where do we go from here? This is only a brief look at a growing problem.
Professionals can create a lot of confusion about basic behaviour and physiological processes. Surely, to help everyone, we could keep it simple.