We Are Our Choices

October 18, 2016

iStock Lab with woman.On the road today, I noticed a bumper sticker on the car in front of me. It said, “Trump. Clinton. We are our choices.” This struck me, not only because it wasn’t the typical declaration for one candidate or the other, but because of the meaning. Whichever candidate we support, we generally support their policies and what they stand for. But beyond that, our choice of candidate says something about us as well. We identify more with that person’s personality and characteristics—they are more like us. Okay, not in every way, and don’t worry, this is not to be a discussion of politics. But what that bumper sticker did make me think about is dog training.

What does “We are our choices” have to do with training and behavior? A lot. Just as in politics, it’s well known that there are two major schools of thought. The more traditional school is more focused on strict obedience, and leans more heavily on compulsion and corrections. Tools that are used may include choke chains, pinch collars, and shock collars. The more positive reinforcement oriented school focuses on how dogs think and learn, employs rewards such as treats, and eschews the formerly mentioned tools in favor of head halters, clickers, and more. Of course, this is an oversimplification. There are trainers in either school who are so much toward the extreme end of the curve that they give other trainers in that camp a bad name. And any tool can be used more or less harshly.

Still, we are our choices. I choose cooperation over coercion in training. I am a peaceful, loving, patient person (okay, except in L.A. traffic), and I bring that into my training. I treat my clients with the same respect and patience that I do my four-footed students. I have noticed over the years a trend: the way trainers treat dogs has a direct correlation with the way they treat people. Sure, there are some trainers who are harsher with dogs and kinder with people, but I’ve seen an awful lot more trainers who are harsh in their training methods be condescending, short-tempered, and overly authoritarian with their clients. Likewise, I’ve seen trainers who are kind, patient, and respectful toward dogs be the same way with owners. It makes sense, as it’s the way you see the behavior of those around you and how you react to it.

Regardless of where you fall on the training spectrum, what tools you use, and how you use them, your choices do say a lot about you. And so it’s true in politics, dog training, and life in general: We are our choices. Let’s try to make good ones.

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Can a Confident Dog Help a Fearful One?

October 3, 2016

confident-dog-fearful-dog-blog
Misty is a six-month-old Bichon who has been with her family since the age of seven weeks. On walks, Misty seems to be afraid of everything. She lags on leash, practically hiding behind whoever is walking her, and constantly scans the environment for potential trouble.

Buddy is a two-year-old Shepherd mix. By all accounts, he’s a great family dog; that is, until a stranger comes to visit. When the visitor first enters the home, Buddy barks and alternates between lunging toward the person and backing away as if to say, “You big scary thing, don’t make me come over there!” In short, Buddy is uncomfortable around new people, and wishes they’d just leave.

Misty and Buddy, although two very different dogs, have something in common: they’re fearful in certain situations. While it would be wonderful if we could explain to them that there’s nothing to be afraid of, we can’t. (Well, we try, but dogs are pretty much just hearing that Peanuts cartoon wah-wah-WAH-wah.) But what if we could show them instead? The easiest way to do that is by employing the help of a confident, dog-friendly dog.

Dogs learn by observation. And they most certainly learn things from each other, both good and bad. One dog, by example, can help to potty train a new dog. A dog with separation anxiety can, unfortunately, demonstrate to another dog that it’s worrisome for the owners to be gone. Since dogs observe and learn from each other, we might as well put that to good use. You might be lucky enough to have a second dog in the home who is confident. If not, think about who you know that has a confident dog who likes other dogs and people. In Misty’s case, maybe you could phone a friend and ask if she’d like to take the dogs out for a walk together. In Buddy’s case, invite the friend to bring her dog over. If your dog doesn’t know her, she can serve as the visitor. If Buddy already knows her, invite another friend to come by once the friend and her dog have settled in for at least 15 minutes.

Now imagine the new scenarios. Misty and her friend are being walked down the street together. The confident dog is happy and outgoing. Misty, normally nervous and insecure, is less so with her friend there to back her up and to show her the world isn’t such a scary place. At home, Buddy notices how his friend reacts in a friendly way to the person Buddy found frightening, and considers that maybe the person isn’t so bad after all. With careful, controlled repetition of these scenarios, Misty and Buddy will begin to gain confidence, and will eventually learn to be more confident on their own.

In my full-day seminar Working with Fearful Dogs, I show a video of a cocker spaniel named Buster. Buster has multiple fear issues, including meeting new people. In the clip, the female cocker who lives with him is secluded in another room. I work with Buster on hand targeting. He’s willing to work with me because I have super yummy treats, but his body language clearly broadcasts that he is afraid to get too close, and he simply can’t relax. After a few minutes, we let the female cocker out to join us. Viola! There is an Instant transformation as Buster, along with the other dog, jumps all over me, tail wagging, body wiggly, clearly unafraid. It’s an amazing turnaround, and demonstrates so clearly how much having a confident dog present can help a fearful one.

Does this plan work for each and every dog? Of course not. Nothing is 100% effective with every dog. But as a trainer with many years of experience, I can tell you that it does absolutely help many dogs. Think about ways you can use a confident dog to help your fearful one.

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You can find all of my books, seminar DVDs, seminar schedule and blog at http://www.nicolewilde.com, and my photography/art at http://www.nicolewildephotography.com

 


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