Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Confessions

Today on the Border Collie Boards, someone made a list of "Confessions" based on things that she has heard people critique dog owners on.  I responded in the post with my own list of "Confessions".

Here is my list . . . .  Purple comments were added by me here, and were not part of the original post on the Board
  • I manage some things instead of training them with some dogs. Sometimes I simply consider other things more important.  Dean walked on an Easy Walk Harness for quite some time because I wanted to work on other things besides loose leash walking
  • I sometimes mix grain free kibble with raw. 
  • I reinforce dogs when they are afraid and it ends up making them more confident.  Speedy would never have danced in front of one person, much less 500, had I not recognized that I was not "reinforcing fear" by doing this
  • I LOVE it when my dogs jump up to greet me when I get home.
  • I train my dogs to put their paws up on me, and on other things, on cue.
  • I consider it an issue if my dog won't go out a door ahead of me.  UGH!  It drove me NUTS when Tessa wouldn't go through a door ahead of me!
  • I use lures to introduce the vast majority of behaviors that I train and doing so does not result in dogs who only know how to follow food.  The key is to fade the lure as soon as the dog is ready for more of a challenge
  • I help dogs overcome car chasing without using any verbal or physical corrections and I absolutely care very deeply about their safety.
  • I do not use exercise to tire my dogs out so they will behave. My dogs exercise for enjoyment and overall health, and they behave because they know what is expected.  [The phrase "a good dog is a tired dog" makes me cringe on several different levels.  Yes, exercise is important, but it is not a substitute for good training, nor for quality mental stimulation.]
  • I save tidbits of my food from every meal and share it with my dogs. I've done this since we adopted our first dog because I love to share good things with my dogs. (Except, of course, items that would be harmful to their health, such as onions). Sometimes when I'm not home, I find that I have set food off to the side of my plate for them!  I don't think of food as "people food" and "dog food".  Food is food.  As long as I feed my dogs food that will not harm them, in moderate amounts, they eat a healthy diet.
  • I give my dogs free treats whenever I feel like it.
  • I often reinforce my dogs for trying their best even when they don't technically perform correctly.  I blogged about this recently.
  • I give my dogs free access to one another, to toys, to the furniture, and to many other things that they enjoy, and doing so does not reduce their enthusiasm for working with me one iota.  No "Ruff Love" here.  That style of dog management does not suit me at all.
  • If one of my fearful dogs is hesitant to do something that is not absolutely necessary at that point in time, I don't "make" the dog do whatever it is. I regard that as legitimate communication, not defiance.  Some would declare me anathema for that!  But I have found that this builds trust and confidence, and I have never made one of my dogs more fearful by respecting this communication.  I have only done so on occasions when I have failed to listen.
  • I use giving my dog permission to do things that they want to reinforce them for doing what I want. I no longer consider those things to be "self-rewarding" and I love being free of that idea.  Thank God I was able to toss that notion aside!  It is liberating to not have to try to manage my dogs to that degree.
  • I no longer use "watch me" to teach a dog to focus on me in the presence of a distraction.  It was a good technique to get started with, but when Speedy and I hit the end of its usefulness, it was a real blessing that CU came out right at that time!  LAT took us to the next level.
  • I know for a fact that I do not need to be more interesting than anything to have a focused and confident performance dog, so I no longer try to be, and I love being rid of the notion.  Halleluia!  Halleluia!  I don't have to try to be more interesting than the ground, than other dogs, than sheep, than anything!  Because I can't be and I know it!
  • I don't blame myself for the fact that Speedy is, by nature, fearful of some things. I don't blame myself for the fact that Dean is noise phobic. I don't blame myself for the fact that Tessa is still a little shy of people in some circumstances. I have worked very hard to help each of them overcome those fears to whatever degree is possible (and all three have made incredible progress), but I do not consider myself to be the cause of them.  Of all of these things, I think the one that has been most upsetting to me along the way has been the implication that I somehow caused these problems myself.  Really, neither the dog nor the handler are the problem.  The problem is fear, which has a biochemical basis and must be considered for what it is in and of itself.  When it comes to fear, blame is useless.  What is needed is an objective and proactive attitude.  It can be incredibly difficult, on an emotional level, to live with, train, and handle a fearful dog.  Blaming the handler only serves to increase the difficulty and does nothing to bring about changes that can help the dog let overcome those fears.
  • I do not deliberately deprive my dogs of anything so they will want train with treats, and they still want to - very much.  This is a common objection that I often read on internet lists to reinforcement based training.  Yes, some people do this, but most reinforcement based trainers, including myself, absolutely do not.
  • I have trained with treats for over 10 years now. Not one of my dogs is fat - all are quite trim with ribs you can feel easily.
  • I like getting kisses from my dogs.
  • I don't expect any of my dogs to tolerate another dog putting his or her face right up against his or her closed crate door.
  • I encourage my dogs to play tug with me, and the dog is certainly allowed to win.
  • Sometimes, when we perform in a sport, I make handling mistakes, and sometimes I am not at my best and I don't handle at my best. Sometimes my dogs make mistakes, and sometimes they are not at their best and they don't perform at their best. I recognize that both of those things happen and I flatly refuse to attribute all errors to either the handler or the dog in every circumstance.
  • I have a bad toe and one of these days I am probably seriously going to hurt myself running Agility, but I run anyway. Some risks are worth taking.
  • I am not a dog and I do not try to simulate one when I train.  Hence, I don't growl at my dogs, I do not scruff shake them, I do not use verbal corrections that simulate growling, and I do not use physical corrections that simulate the way a mother dog might discipline her puppies
  • I am often amused when my dogs get creative during training, and I sometimes laugh right out loud at their ideas, even if I am trying to train something different.
I guess when it comes down to it, I'm not a big one for "conventional wisdom" when it comes to dog ownership, training, and handling.  I do a lot of things that are outside of the norm.  And it works for me, and it works for my dogs.

I've always marched to the beat of a different drummer in many ways.  No reason to stop now ... 

So, those are my "Confessions"!! 

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