Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Stubborn as a mule?

    Unwillingness to yield; refusing to move or change one's opinion; obstinate

    Difficult to handle or overcome; resolute adherence to your own ideas or desires; not giving in to arguments or requests


      “I said SIT”

      “You know how to sit – you have done it a million times. Why are you so STUBBORN?”

      Oh, we have all been there. Usually in front of a crowd where seemingly the entire world views our lack of skill as a dog handler.

      “Are you going to let him get away with that?”,  generally follows.

      As humans, one of our greatest gifts is our ability to “see the big picture”. Our wonderfully complex brains can scan the environment and give us messages without our having to sort out each little bit of data step by step. All of this analysis goes on behind the scenes, brain synapses firing in nanoseconds, finally spitting out conclusions.

      Errrr...except sometimes those conclusions are wrong. What looks like a stubborn disposition to us is not really applicable to dogs at all-and at the very least, it is not helpful to label it as such.

      Dogs live in the here and now!

      If your dog does not respond to a request:

      1.    You have not trained this behavior to fluency
      You have taught your dog that the word 'sit' means to place his bottom on the floor, but have you taught him that this applies in different locations as well? It’s easy for humans to generalize but for dogs, not so much. You must teach your dog that the word 'sit' means sit in the kitchen, sit on the patio, sit in the back yard, sit... anywhere! Have you also taught your dog that 'sit' means the same thing if you give the cue while you are standing beside him, or even with your back to him? Keep in mind that when you change anything about the behavior (location, distractions, duration, etc.) you must cut your dog some slack and not expect the behavior to be perfect right away until he adjusts to the change.

      2.    He is unsure of what you are asking
      What you think is the cue may not be the cue. I once was asked to give my dog my cue for 'down'. I stood before my dog and gave his cue,  the word ‘down’. My dog responded with a lovely down. Yeah, that's how we do it, I thought smugly. I was then told to hold my body perfectly still and use my word cue again. Piece of cake. I did, and…nothing. Huh? He knows this! No he did not.  Until it was pointed out to me, I was completely unaware that each time I spoke my cue, my upper body tipped forward ever so slightly-this is what Stoli thought meant 'down'! Lesson learned.

      3.    He is physically incapable or physically uncomfortable
      Aside from physical injury, examples of this are asking a dog for a sit or a down on prickly grass or hot asphalt, or maybe simply on a surface he has never been on before.

      4.  The behavior has not been reinforced (what is reinforced is repeated)

      We ask a lot from our dogs. First, we ask them to perform behaviors that are foreign to their very nature (they are a different species, after all). We require they do as we ask when we ask, no questions asked,  each and every time. Well, why should they? If I demanded you perform a behavior that was completely meaningless to you, anytime, anywhere, with no benefit to you and a LOT of expectation on my part that you immediately comply-how motivated would you be to continue doing so?  Now, what if I paired the behavior with something pleasant so that the doing of it became pleasant by association? This is exactly what Pavlov observed when his dogs began to salivate upon hearing the sound of the bell used to signal dinnertime. If we pair a reinforcement-usually (but not always) food (after all every dog must eat) with an event (the behavior) a pleasant association between the two is likely to develop, greatly increasing our chances that the behavior will be repeated.

      Some of us have a very hard time giving up 'corrections'. So, for those who just cannot let go of the idea that they are necessary, this is for you.

      Step 1: Take a newspaper and roll it into a tight cylinder.
      Step 2: Stand before your dog
      Step 3: Raise the newspaper
      Step 4: Give yourself a few sharp raps to the forehead (I know...I's going to hurt you more than the dog to do this)

      Bottom line: If your dog is not performing the behavior you requested it is because you have not trained it!