1.0 My Thoughts On…
Perception and Assumption v.s. Understanding – Behavior, Training Techniques, Psychology and Communication
1.1 Our Past – Our Future and Choosing a Better Way
There are more dogs suffering from behavioral issues and illness now than at any other time in our past history. Technology allows us to go places and do things that in the past, mankind could only dream of accomplishing . There are more formally educated people than ever before. Yet we are failing in our role of mentor and protector to our canine companions.
Why haven’t we evolved to understand and communicate more effectively with our best friends?
Are we really as intelligent as we assume?
We humans have lived with canines for at least 30,000 years. We have had eons to study our canine companions – but reality reflects a world in which our relationship with our dogs is increasingly strained. Why have we not learned more from our long-term relationship with dogs?
In times long-past we proclaimed ourselves to be the ‘king of the beasts’ and it seems we have not looked back since – but perhaps we should. Was it our ego that inspired us to proclaim ourselves as the king of the castle or had we earned the right to do so? We are creatures of habit as are many other animal species – we have all experienced at one time or another that habit can be blinding. Perhaps it is time to open our eyes, our hearts, our minds to see beyond the strictures of the past – to liberate ourselves from self-imposed limitations, for the good of both dog and man.
Much of what we think we know, much of what we perceive may be influenced by the popularized images and conceptions we are exposed to . Popularization is not an assurance that something is ‘good’ – beneficial, logical, sensible, ‘right’. One has only to look at our species’ history to see that ‘popular’ may represent actions, choices, perceptions that are not based on logic, that are not based on desirable, fair or ethical choices. Popularization can simply be a reflection of societal polarization to and mobilization of a poorly conceived idea which at best may cause minor confusion and at worst major harm.
“What we see depends mainly on what we look for”
– John Lubbock
1.2 Dog Behavior, Our Behavior
The famous ‘alpha’ word is a good place to start. Alpha when used to describe anything to do with dogs is – in reality, a concept that has nothing to do with real-life, real-time dog behavior or dog psychology. You can read here to understand more.
Positive Reward (PR+) based training, can cause just as much damage as the ‘alpha’ approach when taken to an extreme where the trainer or behaviorist chooses ‘rewards’ – food, treats, excited voice as the sole means of ‘training’ a dog.
To understand the potential negative impacts of a training approach all one has to do is put that approach into human terms. By that I mean what would happen if you adopted the approach with another human? Well lets take a look…
If you choose the alpha approach you are either going to:
- Trigger a fight with the person you are looking to dominate, or;
- You will end-up undermining the other person’s self-confidence.
In either case you are behaving like a bully and you are adversely affecting the other person.
If instead you choose the PR+ method:
- The other human will learn that they should be rewarded for every normal thing that they do;
- If a reward is not offered he / she may choose not to do anything as the motivation to perform the requested action is no longer offered;
- He/she may hold-out until he/she receives a reward and if the reward is not available (i.e. you forgot the treat, ran out of treat supplies, etc.) he/she may dig- in and refuse to participate, or may participate by throwing a tantrum;
- He / she may become frustrated and maladjusted as what is offered does not teach coping skills;
- In addition, if you are using unhealthy treats you can trigger oral health issues, weight gain and a myriad of other health issues.
Domination (the ‘alpha thing’) and the use of rewards (bribery) are both tactics not generally used by dogs to communicate to and teach each other coping and life skills. The way that we choose to approach a situation can inspire positive learning accompanied by a positive outcome or negative learning resulting in a negative outcome – pure logic.
“If your actions inspire others to dream, to learn more, to do more and be more, you are a leader”
– John Quincy Adams
1.2 Dog Psychology, Human Psychology
Why Being Consciously Aware is Essential
I see and hear the term ‘dog psychology’ used everywhere – on dog trainers’ and behaviorists’ websites, on the professional group discussion boards I participate in. The word ‘psychology’ has become a trap, a catch-all, a regurgitation of misconceptions.
Thought Streaming on Auto Pilot
Most of us move through our typical day surrounded and consequently flooded by visual and audio stimulation while our thoughts flow by on auto-pilot. We have a habit of forgetting to connect back to ourselves to make deliberate, conscious choices about how we direct our thoughts and our communication.
For most of us our default state is an emotive-reactive state where we forget to be truly observant or present. We are in a state were logic is absent and omission is enabled – meaning we do not consciously see, feel, sense many of the details that surround us. This is also how most of us communicate.
When Auto Pilot Works Well
Auto-pilot is advantageous when it includes the habit of being aware, alert, observant – this is a healthy state of normal.
When auto-pilot is comprised of unconscious stream of thought and reactivity you become just what you don’t want your dog to be – inattentive, unfocused, flooded and reactive. An undesirable state of normal.
We Place Ourselves at a Disadvantage That Negatively Impacts Ourselves and Our Dogs
Dogs are, in general more connected with their senses. Dogs are much more adept and insightful communicators as they are more in-touch with their natural kit of communication tools. In addition, some dogs have heightened sensitivity – an attribute that is a real advantage when understood and properly utilized, and a dis-advantage when not recognized and not understood.
Expanding Out and Away From Our Man-Made Limitations
Our disconnected out-of-touch, and unobservant default state is further enabled by our cultural beliefs as humans – i.e. dogs cannot express emotions as humans do. Dogs have less value as beings than humans do, etc.
We Need to Acknowledge There is More
Dogs have a full range of emotions, they also have the muscular facial structure to express those emotions – dogs do smile. Dogs feel and express joy, surprise, sadness, grief, and everything in between. Dogs have empathy. Dogs react to stimuli much like we humans do – based on nature and nurture. Each individual (whether canine or human) has a unique combination of inherited traits, and acquired traits shaped by environmental influences. These help to determine how we react and adjust to various situations.
Dogs form habits and associations to situations much like humans do – changing habits and associations in dogs and humans requires a similar approach.
Training for Us – The Road to Positive Change
While a dog needs some support to change his/her habits the dog is already a good communicator. We need the training to better our communication skills, our awareness, our insight in order to support conscious observation. This is how we change our default state and by so doing gain the opportunity to provide true, logical and consistent leadership to ourselves and to others.
1.3 Acquiring the Habit of Positive Change
In my experience changing a dog’s unhealthy habits can be accomplished with more ease than changing a human’s unhealthy habits. Why? Is it because the dog is less intelligent than the human? In my estimation it is not that the dog is less intelligent. A dog is generally more observant and therefore a more insightful communicator than an ‘untrained human’. Insight and observation are attributes that support logic. The lack of insight creates opportunity for confusion, emotion and chaos.
A dog will willingly accept another mode of behavior when true logic is offered whereas we humans – in our single minded fashion ‘doggedly’ reject logic in favour of our emotive state. A type of stubborn that does us little good. What we need instead is ‘good’ stubborn. For the purposes of this discussion we will call ‘good stubborn’ – patience.
A dog has plenty of patience – whether to wait patiently for an opportunity, or to exercise persistence with great determination.
On the other end of the spectrum, we humans are rapidly losing a sense of what patience truly represents.
As technology continues to evolve at an ever increasing rate we humans are facing a real challenge on many fronts – some of which directly affect our ability to understand and support the psychological well-being of our canine companions.
We are becoming less adept at perceiving and intentionally using all of our senses. This has a deleterious effect on our ability to effectively communicate. We are relying more and more on technology and less on our own senses to accomplish many normal daily functions. We spend less time on face-to-face communication – this trend certainly does not improve our face-to-face communication skills. Our desk-top and mobile devices perform ‘spell check’ for us. The internet allows us to look at a vast array of images and information during the course of a typical day. Our human brain is fluid in its ability to evolve along with us as we change the way we work and play in our daily lives. If you spend a sizable portion of your day using a technological device (computer, hand-held device, etc.) you gain skills but you also lose skills. What you gain is access to a wealth of images and information. What we loose is our attention span, and with that goes a loss of attention span and the ability to accurately observe and retain information. To gain back what we are losing and strike a healthy balance between what technology has to offer and what nature gave us to use is of the utmost importance to maintaining healthy relationships with ourselves and with others.
“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw
Our sense of time is changing – what was once considered fast is now considered slow. Our sense of patience, our sense of being present in the moment is changing. We think of ten seconds as a long time, when in fact it is just a few seconds
Misunderstanding, miscommunication, loss of patience, loss of perspective and falling victim to our default state creates a situation where the human and the dog end-up in conflict – this is reflected in the ever increasing number of dogs with behavioral problems.
1.4 Lets Learn to Communicate
Dogs know how to communicate – dogs never stop trying to communicate. Dogs observe their humans, and for the most part dogs do exactly what their human tells them to do. The problem is if we humans do not gain the coaching that we need to understand exactly how and what we are communicating we can end up creating exactly what we did not want! So who actually requires training? Is it the dog or is it the human?
Further complicating matters, misdirection and miscommunication can be exacerbated if for example:
- Your dog has heightened sensitivity;
- Your dog is sight and/or hearing challenged – i.e. blind or deaf;
- You are experiencing sudden or chronic adverse stress.
Turning a challenging situation into a positive one simply requires good communication and understanding – in which case your dog can become a wonderful source of support.
The much used saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is false. An old dog does not need to learn something new to change his/her behavior…that dog already possess what is needed to support change. A dog in his/her double digit years can and will change his/her behavior when communicated to properly – no voice required, no force required, no treats required.
2.0 Not in My Vocabulary
A few basic examples of the many words and concepts that are NOT in my working or personal vocabulary as pertains to dogs:
- ‘Alpha’ as in any use of the term ‘alpha’ including the popular misconceptions that…
- Dog has, or is an ‘alpha’ personality;
- Or human needs to be, or is the dog’s alpha;
- You should feed the ‘alpha’ dog first, etc.,
- As in dog is bad, etc.
- The word punishment has no place in my vocabulary becasue punishment is not what a dog requires – not any dog, not ever.
I teach people to stop using these words because these terms are not representative of the true nature of a dog. These terms represent a fundamental misunderstanding of a dog’s behavior.
I work with dogs that other trainers and behaviorists give-up on, dogs that have bitten, attacked, dogs that have exhibited all types of extreme over-threshold behaviors – yet I have yet to meet a bad dog!
Dogs do NOT require punishment to change their behavior.
To change a dog’s behavior the dog requires insightful understanding followed by insightful communication which creates supportive, logical, clear and respectful guidance.
This is what a dog requires.