Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Verbal Reprimands are "Good Things"

Now that's a title that might give some pause!  Most people who know me know that I don't incorporate correction - verbal or physical - into training.  So, why would I say they are good things?

Because that is a lesson that I have gone out of my way to teach Tessa.  She absolutely loves it when she hears other dogs get corrected, and I went out of my way to make her that way.

Years ago, Maddie and I were running Agility at Periland, and in the middle of our run, a man on the sidelines reprimanded his dog quite loudly.  She stopped and looked around, very worried.  Maddie was always sensitive to angry voices.  With a bit of encouragement, she was able to go on to complete the run, and I think we qualified.  But the whole incident left me thinking.

Of course, in a perfect world, people would leave their verbal reprimands at home.  Except in extreme and unusual circumstances where immediate safety is at stake, I don't believe that trials, where dogs of all sorts of temperaments are gathered, are an appropriate place to be verbally reprimanding dogs.  If the dog cannot behave without constant reprimands, more training at home or classes is in order.

But not everyone shares that philosophy, and it happens, and there is absolutely nothing that I can do about it.

I have realized, however, that I can prepare my dogs to hear it, and I can condition them to love it.

I started this with Tessa when she was first starting out in training classes.  Every time someone went "aht!" or "NO!" or whatever, Tessa got a high value treat.

At first she was tentative about it.  Was this something she needed to be worried about?  I didn't say anything to her, I just gave her a treat every time it happened.

Before long, she was anticipating the treat whenever she heard such reprimands, and eventually, she would actually perk up and start to glow with pleasure when she heard them!

These days she doesn't get a treat every single time, but I will usually give her a pat on the head and a happy "that means good girl, Tessa!" and she waggles happily.

This has served us well, even in the limited time she has been going to competitions.  At a recent Agility trial, we were walking through the crate room, and a participant looked right at Tessa and said, "What a pretty girl!"  Immediately, her own dog started to bark, and without taking her eyes off of Tessa, the woman yelled at her own dog.  Tessa immediately lit up, raised her tail, and preened as we continued to walk through the room.

Oh yeah!!  That's my smart girl.

I don't have to worry about people correcting their dogs on the sidelines.  I don't have to worry about people yelling in the crate room.  She knows those are "good things" that are going to get her praise, and sometimes good treats.  I do keep this loaded up with high value treats on a somewhat regular basis.

I will do this with all future dogs.  I consider it an important skill.

And while I would much prefer that this not be something that I need to do, it is a reality, and I am glad to have a way to be prepared.  When my dog considers hearing verbal corrections and reprimands to be a good thing, I have succeeded, and we can go on and do what we enjoy, regardless of how others do things.

No comments:

Post a Comment