R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find out What it Means to Me—in Dog Training

recall part 2
A woman I know once told me, “I’d rather be feared than respected.” That was her honest opinion, whether it involved people or animals. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to share her view. Take the boss who threatens his employee that if he doesn’t have a report in by the end of the day he’s fired. Or the parent who threatens that if his son doesn’t clean his room he’ll slap him into next week. Sure, the report is likely to get done, and the room cleaned. But what kind of feelings do you think those acts create?

Of course there needs to be consequences for actions. In dog training, we talk about antecedent, behavior, and consequence. But there are way too many people who still subscribe to that old, timeworn philosophy that to get a dog to listen, you need to “show him who’s boss.” Look, it’s a no-brainer that you should ultimately be the one in charge. But training by intimidation is pointless. Yes, you can threaten, strong-arm, and punish a dog ‘till the cows come home, and yes, he’ll comply because you’re bigger and stronger. But is that the kind of relationship you want? In working with wolves over many years, I often thought about how I’d love to see some of those might-is-right trainers try those techniques with the wolves. In dog training we have a name for what would result—one trial learning; that is, for the human.

I was once in a big box pet supply store when I noticed a man with his Akita. The man was trying to look at something on the shelf, and wanted his dog to lie down. He issued the command in a gruff voice. The dog looked nervous, but did not lie down. The man said, “Down!” again, this time a bit louder. The dog cringed and shrank away as much as possible while on leash but remained standing. Finally, the man all but shouted a very threatening-sounding, “Down!” in the dog’s face. The dog hit the floor—facing completely away from the man. Was the Akita blowing him off? Trying to make a statement by pointing his furry derriere in the man’s direction? Nope. The dog was completely upset by the tone of voice, and turning away physically is a very common stress signal. The point here is not that a stern voice should never be used with dogs, or that it’s fine for dogs to not respond until the third request. It’s difficult to judge by one incident, but it certainly appeared by the body language of both species and the man’s voice and demeanor that this was not exactly a relationship built on mutual respect.

People often comment that in photos where my dogs are running towards me, they always look happy. Those frozen moments in time come right after I’ve called my dogs to come, and they comply because we’ve practiced the recall many, many times, with them being rewarded for their good behavior. If they choose not to come, there’s a consequence. Because my dogs are so attached to me, I will hide behind a bush or tree and keep very still. The dog who chose not to come, after finishing sniffing where a bunny had been or whatever the distraction, suddenly realizes I’m not there and all but panics. I let the freak-out go on for a moment or two, and then reappear. This time, the recall is lightning fast. And then we work on getting it right the first time with progressively more difficult distractions.

Yes, you can absolutely get people and animals to do your bidding because they fear you. People do it all the time, and there’s no doubt that it works. But it also damages the relationship, creating feelings of mistrust and even dislike. Besides, why do that when cooperation, patience, and consistency in training get solid results while building respect. Personally, I would much rather have my dogs comply out of respect than fear any day.
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6 Responses to R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find out What it Means to Me—in Dog Training

  1. nissetje says:

    This, so many times this!!!!!

    • Anu says:

      I believe that many dog owners who still strong-arm their dogs into compliance just don’t know about positive reinforcement techniques. And if they’ve heard about clicker training they think it’s ‘woo woo’.

      But after 20+ years of training my own dogs and observing other dog people I’m convinced that most people who use outdated methods do so because they don’t have the patience to consistently use force-free training. It’s faster and easier to jerk up on a leash or yell at a dog to submit.

      Positive reinforcement training takes a lot more time, effort, and way more patience than leash popping and other compulsive obedience ‘corrections’.

      The current love of my life is my five year old Papillon boy, Remy. He has a very anxious temperament which would have only gotten worse if I’d used the old fashioned training techniques (with leash pops and prong collars) I was taught 20+ years ago with my first dog.

      But after a lot of time and patience, and with a good positive reinforcement trainer guiding me with Remy, he’s come further than I could ever have imagined.

      Remy’s growing confidence, attention, love and respect have all been hard won with a great deal of work over long periods of time, especially at the beginning.

      When friends and family marvel how laser focused Remy is on me I always tell them “I earned that”.

      You are absolutely right on saying cooperation, patience, and consistency in dog training get solid results, both in behavior and also the bond.

  2. sassyseattle says:

    You are so right. I spent my life’s career working with people with developmental disabilities. I witnessed so much punishment that was damaging to people, and learned that positive reward was so much more successful in every way. This same mindset dictates my training interaction with any living person or animal, I’ve not been disappointed.

  3. Sally says:

    Great wisdom here. And that woman? She would no longer be my friend.

  4. jajameson2010 says:

    It never occurred to me to hide as a consequence of ignored recall. Creative! I wish it would work on my greyhounds… LOL They just completely would not care. Good thing they are cute and well behaved in public.

    I’m keeping that in my back pocket for future fosters!

  5. ri says:

    Reblogged this on DogSentials and commented:
    THIS…read it.

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