By Jenny Ruth Yasi, CPDT-KA
We get dogs for fun, comfort, companionship, assistance in various tasks. We get them because they make us laugh, help us feel safe, keep us fit, tell us when the mailman is here. So just as I don’t want an “obedient” friend, training buddy or teammate, honestly, having an “obedient” dog isn’t my primary goal.
Mutual understanding and cooperation is more valuable to me than obedience. Dogs can see, hear, smell, feel and experience the world, know and do things that we can’t. As a trainer, I want to gain the cooperation of the whole dog, not just the part they deliver when they are being “obedient.”
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I’m hard of hearing, so I teach all my dogs to perform hearing alerts. My bichon Dandelion was downstairs barking his head off while I was trying to write. I guessed someone was at the door, I didn’t want to answer the door, and so I gave him my release cue. “Thanks! Okay!” That’s my cue for him to stop barking. But he kept on barking and barking. Ugh! NOT obedient.
Annoyed, I dragged myself down the stairs and he wasn’t barking at the door, he was barking at the chimney. Chimney fire! Apparently chimney fires make a noise. Who knew? Good boy Dandylion!
When people ask about shock collars, I think of my many stories like that one, and what you miss out on if you teach dogs to fear making a mistake. As a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, we sign onto the “Humane Heirarchy,” where punishers such as shock are only used as a last resort. This works for me, because I want a dog who dares to be a little bit disobedient when necessary. I want a dog who dares to take risks, experiment, and grow. It’s hard to see desirable behaviors disappearing before they are even expressed, but that’s what can happen when we use force or punishment in training.
[ For more information see https://www.ccpdt.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Application-of-the-Humane-Hierarchy-Position-Statement.pdf ].
For me, trust and fun is the most important ingredient in dog training. In the game of life, mistakes are part of the music, but trust should never be sacrificed. Anxiety does not help dogs perform better.
When your dogs can relax and trust your judgement, it’s easier for them to learn. Like my mentor Susan Garrett, I base my training plans on games. All games need rules or else they are boring. Games of choice are about fun challenges that make dogs more confident motivated partners. If this sounds like the way you like to play, you should join our training club!