Training As If The Dogs Have a Choice – They Do!
Updated: Nov 9, 2019
If you give your LGD a COMMAND you have almost assuredly set both you and your dog up for failure. A command is an order – a cue is an invitation.
That is a huge difference to your dog. Punishment based training works, for the short term. You can stop a dog from doing something by yelling at him, but this will cost you!
One of my favorite analogies about training is to think of what it takes to train a wild caught whale to do – anything. He absolutely has the ability to leave you at any point. Think about all the amazing things whales have been taught to do, because they chose to participate. They have been conditioned to believe that if they give their trainer something he asks for the trainer will then give him something he wants. It’s so simple. It’s beautiful. There is no power struggle; there is no need for one.
For the whale there is the opportunity to earn a reward, which may indeed be a cooler thing than what he was doing a minute ago. He can decide not to participate, and he doesn’t get the fish, but punishment doesn’t exist. The trainer may give him the opportunity to participate again, and maybe this time the whale takes a chance. This is the beginning of a language and a relationship between the whale and the trainer. It’s like building a bank account. The more positive interactions you have with your dog the more likely he is to want to continue to participate with you.
With many animals, such as dogs, it is possible to physically restrain them – make them stay with you – that does not mean you have the dog’s brain! Restrained animals often become fearful, and fear isn’t conducive to learning, or at least to learning something positive. Remember also the oppositional reflex animals have. The minute you take choice away from an animal it becomes resistant to you. That isn’t a helpful mindset in an animal you are trying to train.
Sometimes you just need a dog to do something even if he doesn’t want to, for whatever reason. If I need to play that card and take charge in spite of what the dog wants I do, but I play that card mindfully because I know what that may cost me. The next time I ask the dog for something I may need to rebuild that relationship a bit.
In traditional training a dog is taught things like off, down, sit, etc., in an effort to remove the offending behaviors. The dog is “corrected”, and then if things go as they should the dog is also rewarded for changing his behavior, however it doesn’t always go that way for dogs. Often humans tell dogs what not to do when they are annoyed by them but leave things well enough alone when the behavior of the dog isn’t a problem.
Dogs don’t appreciate “corrections.” It isn’t fun and if they can avoid them they will (I would too) so dogs trained this way become skillful at selective hearing and are often termed difficult, independent, or just not all that bright. Hummm.
The very first thing I want when I am training is a happy and willing participant. From there we can go forward as partners and learn from each other. If I don’t have that I go looking for why. Usually changing the environment in some way will reset things for the animal. Or maybe this isn’t a good day/time for training for that animal for some reason. Or maybe I am asking too much too soon and my animal is letting me know that. This is all super important information.
Dogs trained knowing they have a choice about participating quickly learn to look forward to their interactions with humans and the games they may play together in the future. I think of training as the game they always win because I set up the environment and my expectations very carefully so that the dog is likely to be able to give me a behavior I can reward for.
Dogs trained this way are often described as sensitive, sweet, intelligent, and special; they are the same dogs as described above!!!! It’s the language used to interact with them that is different.
This kind of training is not permissive – I get what I need! But I work with, rather than against, my animal to get there. It’s that old adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. You can’t force your dog to learn what you want him to know, but you can invite him to.