A Dog Training Method .........
There are always rumblings on social media about different dog training methods and their names and acronyms. Everyone seems to have comments and opinions on why one method is better than another. In some cases, in fact long Facebook threads, arguments breakout that become extremely aggressive and rude. Comments like
I am often asked what do I think? Do I approve of this method or that method? Well I never get pulled into these types of conversations or share my opinions and thoughts on one method versus another for a couple of simple reasons.
So, I just don’t do it, I don’t think we can make these kinds of general statements about a hypothetical dog training method because of reason x, y or z!
I remember one discussion about a method that had two different people passionately promoting it. Both individuals provided links to videos they had of their training in action. When I watched the videos of their actual training session and I functionally analyzed what was happening they were both very different. One was a -R protocol and one a +R protocol, yet both were promoting the training method as examples of great positive reinforcement training protocols.
So, to summarize. Rather than make general sweeping statements about one of the many training protocols is it not more accurate to observe a training session and functionally analyze what is happening. What is the targeted behavior, what are the consequences and how are they affecting the behavior and is the behavior as a direct result of the consequences increasing or decreasing. Then you can quietly decide if it’s a protocol you would choose to use in you practice.
If we are committed to implementing a quality training process to transform our workplace into one of purpose and productivity, then it makes sense to educate ourselves on how to be effective trainers. Equally, if we are really dedicated to training and transforming our employees in ways that benefit them personally and professionally, it makes sense to know as much about them as possible.
Human beings have, in general, an intrinsic desire to understand other people, their emotions, their thought processes, and thus, their actions. We no longer need to worry about being chased and killed by saber-toothed tigers and our survival no longer depends on our abilities to run fast, climb a tree or throw a spear. Instead, we survive “based on our abilities to detect the needs and intentions of those around us. Our primary environment has become other people.” (Cozolino, 2015, p. 13).
Because this is so important to us we tend to label people whenever we lack understanding. Understanding them, however, can help reduce the level of uncertainty we might feel about meeting and interacting with them. Our own uncertainties can cause us to make false assumptions about how our employees or trainees will react or behave towards us which, in turn, affects how we behave towards them. This is a damaging, dangerous and unnecessary cycle.
A key part of our effectiveness as trainers is being able to interact positively with our employees. This means we must present ourselves as accessible professionals and communicate appropriately with all team members.
When meeting new people, we perceive and interpret stimuli based on our sensory impressions. A cycle of perception and behavior follows and, if we get it wrong, can lead us to fundamentally misunderstand others’ motives, goals and actions. As individuals, we tend to apply identification rules to the moods, attitudes and intentions of others from the stimuli we receive. In other words, we stereotype. All of us do it to some extent. Once we have created these inaccuracies and drawn our own conclusions, we then expect others to behave in certain ways. This not only affects how we treat them but also how we communicate with them. Instead, we should be treating everyone with respect, fairness, integrity and – yes – interest. If we are to coach others effectively, we need to be invested in them as individuals, not just their goals.
The types of social behaviors dogs demonstrate can be broadly grouped into either distance decreasing or distance increasing.
1. A dog uses distance decreasing behaviors to promote approach, play and continued interaction. A lumbering soft gait, relaxed body and a relaxed face indicate the dog is encouraging interaction. Dogs who want to engage in play will demonstrate the ‘play bow,’ a posture where the dog bows the front of his/her body so that the front legs are parallel to the ground while the hindquarters remain in the standing position, the dog may offer you a paw, lean into you or rub against you.
2. Distance increasing signals vary and can be easily misread. The distance increasing signals we all seem to ‘get’ are when a dog stands upright making each part of their body appear as large as possible, weight on the front legs, upright tail, upright ears, piloerection (the hair on their back stands up), and the dog will bark or growl. We seem to instinctively react to these signals and take them as the warning they are.
The distance increasing signals that we commonly misinterpret are the more appeasing behaviors dogs demonstrate. Dogs use these appeasement behaviors to make friendly encounters more reliable and to help them pacify what they anticipate being a hostile encounter if escape is impossible for them. These behaviors are a nonaggressive way to ‘cut off’ conflict. When a dog displays these behaviors, we have to recognize that this is the dog’s way of showing us that they are unsure and a little scared.
You may see appeasement signals in one of two ways.
1. Passive Appeasement. Passive appeasement behaviors are easily misunderstood and are often labeled as ‘submissive.’ Dogs displaying passive appeasement will present themselves in a recumbent position exposing the underside of their body. The dog’s ears are typically back and down against the head and the tail is often tucked between the upper legs. Sometimes the dog will expel a small amount of urine while it waits for the attention to cease.
2. Active Appeasement. The active appeasement dog is often incorrectly labeled as ‘excited’ or ‘overly friendly.’ They will often approach you with the whole rear-end wagging in a “U” shape allowing both its face and genital area to be inspected and they may be desperate to jump up and ‘get in your face’.
For humans then, it is important when meeting and greeting dogs to be able to recognize if a dog is friendly and wanting to greet you or if the dog is experiencing stress or fear.
A conflicted dog will want to approach but is too scared or unsure of the outcome. Their body language will vacillate between displays of distance decreasing behaviors and distance increasing behaviors. Interacting with a dog that is conflicted can be risky. If you make a wrong move and the dog cannot avoid the approach then they may become aggressive. This is often the case with a fear biter. If a dog is demonstrating ambivalent, mixed signals then it is advisable to avoid sudden movements, and to allow the dog an escape route. Don’t force the meet and greet by moving toward the dog or having the dogs’ owner manipulate the dog toward you.
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