I typically don't know what my next post will be. Often, it's simply a reaction to something that's hit me in my day-to-day life, like an interaction with a student or a sentiment that seems to permeate the community. These things are often ones that resonate with me in some way. I love it when something hits me in just such a way that it challenges something I believe and I have to open my mind to new possibilities. This is truly how we grow!
Today's topic is another that came up in my day-to-day. Actually, it comes up often in my day-to-day.
We have frequently talked about dogs being labelled unfairly. Words like stubborn are top of the list and are often followed by statements like, "He's got a mind of his own" or "he doesn't WANT to listen."
I could not possibly love the definition of stubborn more for trying to stir this pot again.
Stubborn: having or showing dogged determination not to change one's attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so.
So, that definition would suggest that despite our efforts that make logical sense to a canine, they are still unwilling to comply.
Breaking this down a bit, I would question what 'arguments' are being used to convince your dog to change their 'attitude'?
- Has the right effort truly been made?
- Are the methods used ones that make sense to the dog or is the training coming in the form of a human process?
- Has the effort put forth been thorough and complete?
- Is the dog being challenged further than their training will allow?
Here is the thing. If you strip away the label and view the dog as a dog, you will see the hole in assigning conditions like stubbornness.
We hear this all of the time: He's stubborn. He doesn't want to listen.... While I disagree vehamently with the first label, I couldn't possibly agree more with the "he doesn't want to listen" portion.
Ask yourself why would he want to listen?
Has the training put in built enough value that the dog is looking for more or has training consisted of taking off the leash and simply hoping the dog will come back when you call him?
Is the dog only compliant when distractions are low?
Let's have some empathy for the dog for a moment and try to think about things from their perspective. Imagine if you will, Sally goes to the park and takes Max off-leash, even though she knows his recall is weak. The first couple of times she does this, she is able to catch Max and put the leash back on when she's ready to leave.
After a few days like that, Max starts to see Sally coming and wanders to another area of the park before she can reach him, so she starts to wave around a cookie to bribe him. For a few days, this works to help Sally put on the leash and leave.
The next time, Max wasn't into the cookie - the smells at the park were too interesting. Sally resorted to opening the car door to convince Max it was time to go. He jumped in the car and off they went.
Sally's dog is not trained, but they're getting by.
Fast forward to the first time none of these tactics work..... once Max has gotten wise to the idea that Sally clipping on the leash means his fun is going to end.
To say that 'he doesn't want to listen' is an absolutely accurate statement. Who could blame him? What's in it for him? Nothing besides the loss of his freedom and opportunity to sniff and explore.
Dogs are not born wanting to listen anymore than we are born wanting to work. When the sun is shining and the breeze is mild and smells of Spring flowers, my instincts tell me to get out there and enjoy it. They do not tell me to go to work so I can make money.
Conditioning tells us that going to work is necessary and rewarding. There is nothing instinctual about sitting behind a desk all day, but we do it - even when the sun is shining and the birds are singing - we do it because we've been conditioned to see the value in doing it.
Our dogs need the same. They need to see the value in leaving freedom to come back to a 6 foot leash. That means training and repetition of reward. Value building is such an important part of dog training.
Your dog's freedom at the park is an ingrained reward bred from instinct and pleasure. Coming back to you is not, which is why you need to condition this reward.
If you want your dog to leave that instinctual reward, what will you replaced it with? How will you successfully convey the message that you are more valuable than freedom at the park? In how many locations will you convey this message? How often?
Why would your dog want to listen?
Food for thought!
As always, Happy Training!