It’s a dog, not a robot
A couple years ago, I had a booth at the Rose City Classic Dog show. My friend Danielle Hall came up from California to help me with the booth. During a time when activity at the booth was slow, Danielle decided to go get a sandwich while I was talking with a couple gals from a service dog organization. During the time we talked, their wonderfully behaved seasoned golden retriever service dog just laid next to them observing what was going on around him. We were having a really nice chat about how fitness can help service dogs when Danielle returned with her sandwich.
As I was finishing my conversation, Danielle sat down and started to take a bite.
All of a sudden, I see this flash of fur LAUNCH past me. I turned to see that this seasoned service dog had Danielle’s hand AND her sandwich in his mouth and he was not going to let go. The owners of this dog were HORRIFIED. Danielle didn’t want to let go because her sandwich was wrapped with plastic and she didn’t want the dog to eat the plastic. It all happened as if it was in slow motion but between the owner, myself and Danielle we got the dog to let go. Danielle and I were cleaning up the sandwich fixing that got all over the booth and the owners and dog, slipped away
Sometimes we forget that a dog is not a robot and that dogs have off days or lapses in behavior memory.
Maybe they are just hungry and that sandwich was just too good to pass up.
Recently I was setting up for a workshop and needed to put my drink in the refrigerator but there was a gate in my way and my brain was already on to the next task. There was someone on the other side of the gate, so I simply held my drink out in an effort to communicate that I wanted her to put in the fridge. Well, because I didn’t actually tell her what I wanted, she opened the can and handed it back to me. (she “guessed” what I wanted because I didn’t communicate) I then said “OH! I just needed it put in the fridge” and we got a good laugh out of it, but it really brings me to my point, communication is a KEY component to any interaction that we have with a human or a dog.
Today I want to talk about where our communication may break down and how we can be better communicators when working and training our dogs.
As I grow and learn as a dog trainer, I have been thinking a lot about communication or what information are we providing to our dog for the task we are trying to complete. There are many ways we can communicate with our dogs – verbal, hand signal, body language etc.
When we start each training session we need to consider a few things:
The number one communication issue I see is that dogs are not being given a “cue” that indicates what we want. Often performance handlers do not put all trained behaviors on cue or they only put their performance related behaviors on cue leaving other behaviors in a “not fully trained” or “grey” area for the dog.
If we create “grey” area in our training, it can cause frustration and is aversive to your dog. It doesn’t mean that your dog won’t keep trying as they are likely to get a reward but as the communication breaks down, it makes the training process less efficient and causes a lot of confusion. In the absence of communication, these dogs are guessing what we want and guessing during training has consequences. Confusion causes stress, displacement and lack of focus in our dogs.
Time and time again, I hear from people that they “don’t have time for fitness” and I am going to go out on a limb and say that part of the “time factor” has to do with poor communication between dog and handlers due to lack of fully trained and cued behaviors. For instance, when asking a dog to stand on 2 pieces of equipment, the behaviors needed might be:
Set your dog up for success by putting behaviors on cue and leave the “guessing game” behind.
Of course, I have come up with a solution. Train some target behaviors and put them on cue to help improve communication with your dog. Monday March 5th, 2018, I will launch my new online classroom website Bobbie Lyons Canine Campus. I will be offering the following TARGET TRAINING classes.
Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA CPT