The Sekrit Dog Trainer’s Manual Part II–The Pudding is in the Proof

I used to know a dog trainer with focus so intense, he vibrated.

He could take any strange dog, in a park, or street grasp the leash, regardless of what kind of collar was on the dog–in the midst of dogs, jogger, cyclists, any and all distractions then have that dog heeling, sitting, laying down and staying–while gazing at him with rapt attention within minutes. His voice control was impeccable. Dogs “got him” straight away.

Within two weeks he could have most dogs under voice control, only.

That’s not most people. It’s not even most dog trainers. Later he would go strictly Purely Positive training [and that’s what HE called it and he did it without food rewards/lures even when he taught tricks]. Could most of his clients? I assume so because he did a bang-up amount of business long before the internet was popular and worked with me then published a book of protocols to re-condition aggressive and trained protection dogs for home living based on what we’d worked out.

We used to debate. I went by the old saw of “Teach the dog in a quiet place, first. Then start the distractions and increase the levels.”

“Nonsense,” he’d say. “Sit means SIT. Dogs don’t teach each other what to do only in quiet places. Training in a quiet place is done so the handler can manage the distraction levels–not the dog.”

That’s the whole point, I suppose.

The #1 ticket to a well behaved dog is not teaching the dog the command. It’s “distraction proofing” the dog to do it every time, all the time, no matter what is going on around them. Any dog will sit in the house. It’s the second there’s something more interesting going on that it falls apart.

In class last week all the other owners said, “S/he was great in the driveway/backyard/quiet street. Soon as we got past that, all hell broke loose.”

After that class, I thought about what my friend said. I’m still thinking about it. I’m thinking he might be right.

What if it’s NOT the distractions? He had the attitude that the dog, “The Dog Will Do It”. After a few leaps and bounds and misbehaviour–do we stop believing the dog will do it?

He thought operant conditioning was over-rated. “If you want a dog that heels into telephone poles because it’s busy staring in your face instead of truly paying attention–go for it. Eventually it’s going to break down.”

He had one other theory of interest, “The problem with dog training methods is that most are based on the premise that you should be paying attention to the dog to either correct or reward. That’s a fallacy. The dog should be paying attention to you.”

The older I get, the more I see he might have a point on that one.

We’re worried about the distractions to either reward or correct ‘with good timing’ but what is the dog thinking? Why isn’t the dog paying attention to what we want in the first place?

This man, who was the best I’ve ever seen with any kind of dog or problem–and I’ve watched a large number of dog trainers from all schools of thought. He was driven out of the business by a bullying, lying coterie of New Age R+ Clicker Trainers when he dared to tell to say on TV they were full of crap because instinct would overdrive the conditioning–A FACT cited by the very inventors of clicker training, the Brenners. He also said food was a poor motivator because other distractions were far more interesting and turning dogs into pecking pigeons was an insult to their willingness to work and their inherent sense of dignity.

Now how did this man get the dog to pay attention?

He ignored the dog. He grabbed the leash and sing-songed, “Let’s go, Fido!”

Then he would heel the dog like he was dancing up and down the busy street/park. The dog never knew what was coming next. If he accidentally stepped on a paw, he didn’t stop to apologize or weep and moan–he kept on dancing. He looked insane. By the end of a five minute heel–the dog gazed at him in rapt attention to see what came next. THEN he would sit the dog or lay it down.

I think this worked for two reasons. The first is–he had the dog’s wholehearted attention. The dog didn’t know what the hell was going on and had to pay attention to keep up. The second was his attitude, “The Dog Will Do It.”

He had no doubt, no hesitation.

You know, the emotions that plague the rest of us when Fluffykins acts like a putz? He called his attitude, “Controlled arrogance.”

The simple fact is–it takes far more time to teach the dog to ignore distractions than it does to teach the dog to do something.

We might be looking at the wrong end of the donkey here.

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