Disagreeing with your dog and why “restraining is not training”…
My $0.02 training post for those with problem dogs…
One of the hardest concepts for many dog owners to relate to is the need for learning how to disagree with your dog. As an example many people have developed certain organically grown ceremonies of how they manage their poorly behaved dogs on a walk.
Goes something like this… the person is hyper aware of their dog’s reactivity and spots me walking with one of my dogs. They take the leash and double it up in their hands, getting ready for the eruption they know is coming. Another literally wraps the lead around a fence post along the trail we walk. A sweet older lady steps in front of her very little dog and tries to shield its eyes to us coming. Others haul their dogs off the trail that I’m on. Even worse are the petters or treat givers that keep petting and trying treats while the dog ramps itself up to a level above 10.
Not to say the owners aren’t trying, just saying it’s not working.
These ceremonies and the white knuckle holders that hang onto the leashes and the constant nooo, nooo, or leave it, leeeeaaave it… discussions that are largely unsuccessful as the restrained dog invariably erupts and ramps up to about a 10.5 level until we get by. Basic concept… restraining is not training and the dog learns nothing. In fact… keep that as a mantra…. RESTRAINING IS NOT TRAINING!
What was the consequence for the dog exhibiting unwanted behavior? How did the dog know that this wasn’t what was wanted or accepted? Where was the learning and growing and basics in training? If the owner doesn’t want this behavior, is embarrassed by it, wants it to change… how best can they do it.
Disagreeing. The notion of telling your dog to knock it off, don’t… I got this, etc. is one of the basics of changing bad behavior. There’s lots you can do with the positive side to give your dog really good balance in understanding good choices over bad ones but there has to be a cost to the bad choice. Correcting the dog with a physical, non-emotional action that gives the dog a repercussion for its actions is the quickest and most reliable way to head off the ramp to level 10.5 and establish consistency until it’s a 1.5 at best. That’s training.
There are tools to go with the training concept. When I started out many years ago, it was with a choke chain or chain collar. I never “choked” a dog with it (typical misconception about the use of training tools) but I did learn to “pop” with the leash that would give the dog a “correction”. Nowadays a much better approach is with a high-end prong collar or electronic-collar that can give very low stimulation corrections and information as well as higher course corrections when necessary. Flat collars, gentle leads and harnesses are not training tools, they are restraining tools.
Rewards are a part of this and help balance the more forceful drills and corrections. The reward is once the dog starts making good choices on its own. They start out just by marking the better choice with a “good” spoken word, then marking with “good” and a light head stroke. You need to restrain from lots of praise and chatter, just a marker and a small touch. Later we can introduce food treats and more high value rewards for better behavior. At the start though, we want to instill in the dog that these “disagreements” are things he won’t want to repeat and there are no exceptions.
We also up the ante of the correction to match the dogs’ energy in misbehaving. It has to be one notch above what the dog is willing to put up with to illicit a change. There’s an inflection point where the dog gives in. Then we glue it with repetition and praise for making good decisions. Bad behavior becomes a bad choice and good behavior becomes sought after.
Bottom line, the approach to this balance of training and rewarding is all aimed at taking a dog that is a mess to walk with around others, has to stay home or tears up the house, to a much more relaxed dog, comfortable in walking with you by all sorts of distractions and temptations. That’s the picture you should keep in your head and make a goal. That concept will allow you to change things in the home, around other dogs and have confidence to include your dog in more of your life. Own up to the need to change your dogs behavior and do what it takes to correct that. It’s much more “mean, cruel or unfair” to your dog to put up with behavior that keeps it locked into stressful and unhealthy lifestyles for both of you. Disagreement is vital to changing a dogs patterns and unwanted habits.
Quick chat about being “cruel” or “abusive” to your dog. If you are correcting a dog with a measured aversive action (a “pop” with a leash / prong, a stimulation with an e-collar or other non-injury causing, well timed methods), you are not being cruel, you’re being responsible. Don’t buy into those that think tools and corrections (disagreement) like these are abusive. Leaving your dog home or not having it be under control is abusive. If you don’t think that keeping a dog in a high anxiety, stressed aggressive state or unable to control itself isn’t abusive, you’re kidding yourself.
Final word… don’t be afraid to disagree with your dog in a balanced, firm and determined way. Do so without anger or emotion… it just is a measured consequence to avoid heading out of bounds. The more you can consistently do this the more your dog will progress and reward you with much deeper relationship benefits. It takes practice and possibly some guidance or instruction but it can be dramatic in changing the relationship.
Questions are welcomed.
Never walk alone… Eric.