Recently on the Training Levels yahoo Group Sue Ailsby said, “When the earth shifts under your feet, you have only a few choices. You can run, you can attack, you can freeze, or you can start hysterically, rabidly, desperately learning. It’s exciting, isn’t it?!”
Ever since I got my new Training Levels books I’ve been in the “rabidly, desperately learning” phase. The books are even better than I expected, and I have to say I had high expectations!
I had one those earth shifting under my feet moments when I read one of Sue’s “Very Important Ideas”. She says, “You can’t teach a negative.” Sue then explains it doesn’t help you or the dog when all you can think about is how to get the dog to STOP doing a behavior you don’t want.
The ground started trembling. . . “Don’t think of what you want to stop???. . . Hmmm . . .”
I keep reading. . . Sue points out three questions to ask when your dog chooses to do something you don’t want them to:
- “What do I Want the dog to do in this situation?”
- “How do I stop her from being rewarded for the bad thing?”
- “How do I reward her for doing the good thing?”
The earth is shifting at this point. . .
I think, “This is positive training, if I think only in negatives how am I supposed to teach my dogs anything with positive methods?”
After sleeping on the idea, today it all came together for me.
We are hanging out with a friends dogs, and helping out with their boarding kennel this week. The house is across the driveway from the kennel field and when our dogs go out they can see the kennel dogs in their field. This is always a challenging situation for Maizey.
We have done enough work here that the reactivity to the kennel dogs is minor. This trip she has done even better, and I would qualify her barking as much less reactive and more just letting me know there are dogs there. In my head the question was always, “How do I get her to stop barking at the kennel dogs?”
Here is where the earth shifting came into play. With Sue’s wise words, “you can’t teach a negative” in mind, today I stopped thinking how to get her to stop barking and started asking, “What do I want her to do instead?”
I want her to be relaxed and quiet in the yard. I want her to know it’s okay to let me know the dogs are there, but I have it handled, she doesn’t need to bark more than three or four times. Ultimately I would like her to be able to go out, feel confident enough to not bark at them at all. (The criteria for now is three or four times because I know asking her to not bark at all is beyond her ability at this point. Her barking to let me know they’re there works with other training we’ve been doing for reactivity.)
What I came up with was to let her out of her fence and let her meet the kennel dogs through their fence, with high reinforcement for quiet, calm meetings. She doesn’t bark at dogs she knows, only “strange” dogs. She greeted the kennel dogs when we got here, but sometimes when she goes out they’re there and sometimes they’re inside, so to her each time she goes out they are “new.”
Then I wondered what would happen if I went in the field and talked to her while I was with the kennel dogs. A novel idea, one I had no idea if it would make a difference to her, so I went out with the kennel dogs, she started barking and I said, “Hey Maizeymay, whatchta tellin me?”
A bunch of words that weren’t cues, just my happy confident voice saying “what’s up?” It was so funny! She perks up, looks around and then runs to the door looking for me. I say, “Hey girlie, I’m over here.” Once she found me I told her what a good girl she was and went about my business. She hasn’t barked at the kennel dogs again!
I don’t know that this is a permanent solution, I don’t know that it wasnt all coincidence, I don’t know that she learned anything. What I do know is my thinking has shifted and I’ve learned something!
Another example: She gets her detox in a spoon full of yogurt or something yummy. With six other dogs around it takes more management to get her in a space where she can eat with out being interrupted by curious mouths. Instead of thinking how can I get these dogs to stop bugging her when she takes her detox I started thinking, “What do I want it to be like when I give her this medicine?”
The answer? I just need a little space and the other dogs to wait their turn for a treat.
The solution? Have Maizey hop on a kitchen chair and sit while the other dogs practice some treat zen and wait their turn. Then give each one a treat and wallaah! We have a simple, peaceful way for Maizey to get her meds and all the dogs get to practice a little self control. We’re all happy!
Short story long I’m loving my Training Levels books. If you haven’t ordered yours yet I highly recommend it. They are an invaluable tool for any one with a 4legged friend!.
Now, I’m off for more rabid Training Levels learning!