My 11 month-old puppy Otis is fortunate to have a litter mate living here in San Francisco. This afternoon I took Otis around the corner to Douglass Dog Park and as soon as we entered, BOOM, her sister/litter mate Magpie came charging up. I wish I’d had had my phone/camera on the ready because they immediately started celebrating, running precisely side-by-side all over, back and forth across the park, happy, happy pups. Magpie performed amazing lateral jumps directly over Otis while running (one of which you can see in the video). The joy of recognition, reunion and sisterhood!
By Jeff Stallings
While dogs don’t use language in the sense that we normally use the term, pretty much all they do is communicate. Their “words” are formed by rumps, heads, ears, legs and tails, and they know how to translate this language intuitively. For dogs, posture can announce aggressive intent or shrinking modesty. If you learn how to read even just the basics of this language, you have a head start on behavior modification.
Similarly, dogs have evolved along with humans for hundreds of thousands of years and in the process have learned how to instantly read our intentions, emotions and vocal patterns. For instance, a dog knows whether you’re making a statement or asking a question based on the cadence of your voice. And dogs will follow your gaze by looking at your eyes and will turn his eyes to the direction of your pointing finger, skills wolves do not possess and cannot learn.
Coupled with your dog’s inherent pack nature (which contrary to the positive reinforcement purists has not dissipated but is in fact fundamental to your dog’s social connection to YOU), this highly-developed ability to read your intent and emotional state presents the fastest and most reliable route to your dog’s better nature.
It boils down to this: When you decipher a dog’s most basic body language and make corrections before he reacts inappropriately—and then clearly express the desired behavior in terms he can easily comprehend—you put in place the building blocks of a deep and sustained relationship with your dog, one in which you, the calm assertive human, make decisions and he, the dog, happily relinquishes any desire to do so.
By Jeff Stallings
There’s an on-going flap over two dog training philosophies, positive reinforcement vs. punishment: Using food treats to compel a dog to behave correctly versus using pain or fear to accomplish the same.
What gets lost in the sometimes contentious back-and-forth is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to dog training. Each puppy and dog is unique, or as my dog-adoring mother used to say “a snowflake distinct among snowflakes”. So while innate behavior instincts are similar across the species and breeds, each dog must be viewed as a distinct creature.
We must also make a distinction between objective training on the one hand and behavior modification on the other; I employ different modes of training for each of these broad categories. Positive reinforcement, with judicious use of well-timed treats, is ideal for objective training, such as teaching a puppy to sit/stay or training a dog to high-five. Behavior modification, which addresses ingrained problems such as aggression, leash-pulling or separation anxiety, is rarely effective when limited to food-based training.
Most of my clients hire me to address problem behaviors. I never use fear or pain to train a dog because fear is counterproductive 100% of the time, and pain is unnecessary except in extreme cases of dangerous aggression. That said, to quickly modify dog behavior there must be a consequence for inappropriate behavior. (Some trainers will advise you to simply ignore a dog’s bad behavior, yet I don’t know of any parent who employs this tactic on their kids!) Note that in regards to dog training, “consequence” is not the same as “punishment“: I do not advocate inflicting pain in any way. But there are far more expeditious ways to teach a dog not to jump on people, for example, than ignoring the behavior.
By Jeff Stallings
We all have an idealized vision of what our dog should be, the mutt in the Norman Rockwell painting, asleep at our feet while we snooze on the couch. In our mind’s eye, our dog stays when told, comes when called, loves kids and other dogs, walks calmly by our side: the perfectly behaved friend, year after year. Yet all you have to do is spend a few minutes in any dog park to find dogs far removed from that perfect mutt, pulling on leashes, jumping on strangers, ignoring their owners’ calls, starting fights or threatening people.
Why are there so many poorly trained dogs? Part of the problem is information overload, competing and contradictory advice on the best way to train dogs, then frustration with the lack of progress when it doesn’t seem to be working. But rest assured there is a route to a better behaved dog and in future blog entries, I’m going to tell you how in future posts.