Dirty words in dog training…

The title may have your mind going to strange places, and there’s nothing like a title to grab your attention! And whilst dogging may have a very different meaning in some circles, this topic is strictly PG!

The title was actually taken from a presentation I have delivered, initially at seminar, and since in various formats.

The subject matter is the contentious and emotive discussion concerning dogs, Training, living and owning them. Words that have become ‘dirty’ in the world of dog training and behaviour.

The history of dog/human relationships has been one fit for a Spielberg classic… the story of taming the wild beast, incorporating them into our lives, befriending them, domesticated them, selecting and breeding them… to eventually raising then for a purpose, if only to take a cute selfie with. Our paths have been intertwined for centuries, as has the process of Training them. We have swung from extreme levels of punishment, to more co-operative approaches which take into consideration the dogs needs and wants. We have been influenced by science and the knowledge gained from those that care give to wild animals in captivity and have employed to ensure their welfare and wellbeing in false environment is as comfortable, humane and ethical as possible. I am aware of the debates in relation to animals kept in captivity, and I am not going delve into this in this blog, as this will detract from the purpose.

I for one am thankful for the sharing of ideas and knowledge available to us, from any source, that allows me to train more effectively and clarity.

However it also appears that we have been a society and culture that swings from one extreme to another.

There are two distinct words, amongst many others that are becoming more and more contentious when even mentioned in relation to dogs, their welfare and Training.

They are stress and frustration.

Before you run for a cold flannel and brown paper bag, as you hyperventilate… hear me out.

As Training of dogs has become more reinforcement based, so has the way in which we perceive and engage with our dogs.

We are more aware of our responsibility towards them. We understand the need to consider THEIR communication signs and body language, whereas in our history this wasn’t relevant or considered.

In this thinking, we have also made the concept of stress and frustration taboo subjects that can divide a room full of dog trainers and behaviourist like the red sea parting. However, in doing so we have misunderstood how both these concepts can assist and help our dogs be happier, healthier and more accustomed to the world we ask them to endure.

Stress and frustration aren’t necessarily a negative concept. At least not in excess, and that is the key. Anything to the extreme can be damaging, too much food can cause health issues, too much sun can cause cancer, too much rain can cause a flood…. but all these things in appropriate doses are needed for us to lead normal HEALTHY lives. I see stress and frustration as the same.

The world is full of situations and circumstances that will create stress and frustration, and not educating our dogs how to deal with either, is preventing them from being healthy.

As a sports dog trainer, I can work and harness both to create better performance and teach my dogs how to think whilst in a heightened state of arousal and how to cope with frustration. But that process of inoculating my dog against both, doesn’t start for the sake of a dog sport… it starts because I want a dog that can function happily, safely and confidently in a world where they may experience both on a daily basis, unpredictably and uncontrollably. They need to develop and be taught coping tactics. That is my responsibility, no different to preparing for daughter for the same when she grows and faces the world.

This reluctance to understand and embrace these concepts can be attributed to several factors.

I believe that we as dogs owners and trainers/behaviourist, we have a lot of guilt over our gross misjudgments from the past, the techniques and methodology used were lacking in compassion and understanding, thats for sure. I am

not referring to individuals but a collective industry. But as Maya Angelou said ‘when you know better, you do better’. We all have made mistakes and misjudgments, thats part of the human experience. Are we potentially over compensating for our past guilt?

As mentioned previously, the influence on dog training and care, by care givers to other animals and species has raised the awareness of management, enrichment and living with animals in environments that are not ‘their own’. This is a huge revelation for us and we should all glean for this knowledge basis. However their are factors to consider that do needed to be taken into context. Dogs and humans have a very unique and deep interwoven relationship, more so then most other species. That is not to discredit the close interpersonal relationship others may share with their axolotl or arachnid, but we have literally created a species of animal that are ‘custom’ made for humans. This in turn has affected their ability to relate to us. They also face challenges on a daily basis as a result of this close interpersonal relationship that other species may not, simple things like the TV, the hoover, children, other strange dogs at ‘their’ park, strange people coming to the door daily… and the endless list of daily stresses our dogs are expected to ‘cope’ with and largely be indifferent to. This is not to list the everyday unpredictable challenges they may face on the odd occasions, an elevator, a hot air ballon, a reversing dustbin truck… these are just a few examples of unusual things our may encounter on any single day, and possibly unpredictably.

Having a dog with sound temperament can’t be overemphasised enough, but often this isn’t the case.

Strategically and systematically inoculating our dogs against stress and frustration will help them navigate their way through ‘our world’. Allowing them time to acclimate to the world, gain confidence and letting them be, whilst they figure out for themselves what scary thing is.

Now before you throw your arms in the arms in disgust, let me clarify. There is a HUGE difference between subjecting your dog to so much stress and frustration it causes them harm or damage, emotionally, mentally or physically and introducing challenges that may cause them stress and frustration in tiny does they barely notice, and providing reinforcement for overcoming the challenge and ALWAYS using your dogs confidence as a bench mark for progression.

Like exercise, you systematically stress your body so that it can adapt and become stronger. Rest days in between exercise are crucial to become stronger and also taking time to build takes time.

But trying to work out when you are ill, or injured is asking for trouble and this is applicable to dog training. Imposing stress and frustration to a dog that is anxious or fearful, will merely break down the dogs confidence.

Shaping, adding arousal systematically and creating achievable challenges for your dog, are just some of the ways to build their confidence and bolster it. Jackpots, thoughtful Training and awareness will create a dog full to the brim with confidence to conquer the world!

2 Replies to “Dirty words in dog training…”

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