Maybe it's our egos and our top of the food chain attitude, but sometimes people forget that we are in fact animals. Humans have a very top to bottom approach to viewing life, people, success and growth. We are hierarchical in the way that we view relationships throughout our life in the way that we judge people to be better, worse, smarter, dumber, older, younger etc. This linear way at looking at relationships can be very detrimental and abusive to the way that we treat other animals and people. For example, the submission and dominance approach to dog training believes that force and intimidation, mentally and physically, must be used to "prove" that you are better, stronger and higher up on the ranks than the animal that you are working with. However, what if you are training a killer whale or a two thousand pound elephant? How do you expect to physically manipulate one of these animals? In the words of the 14th Dalai Lama, "Through violence, you may 'solve' one problem, but you sow the seeds for another." Yes, I can put a shock collar on a dog and I am fully capable of pushing, kicking and prodding an animal, and yes, I may get the animal to "stop" doing what they are doing at that moment, however, I choose to respect other living creatures and their right to feel pain and emotions. I'd like to see someone put a shock collar on a killer whale or to see someone put a prong collar on a big cat, without the animal turning around and eating them. I respect animals for having minds that are more than capable of learning, loving, and appreciating a relationship formed out of respect, mutual understanding, and clear communication. I choose to lead with patience and knowledge to truly connect with animals through positive reinforcement techniques, dedication and consistency. We can all learn a lot from working with animals with positive reinforcement methods. We can learn to approach life in a less linear, hierarchical way that is more fluid, interchangeable, open minded and loving. Relationships, not just with your dog, but also with other people can be looked at with different eyes that yield a whole new way of approaching conflicts, problems and discomfort.
Oftentimes, people ask me, "How do I say, "No!" to my dog?" or they'll ask, "How do I punish my dog for bad behavior?" I love the quizzical, shocked look that they give me when I say, "You don't have to say no, you just have to show." Take the time to ask yourself what 'no' really means. One of the many Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions is- "used to express negation, dissent, denial, or dismal." There is not a single definition having to do with how to communicate a different behavioral outcome instead. Does no mean to stop doing something, to look the other way, to stop barking, to stop pulling, to stop doing whatever, otherwise a harsh and horrible punishment will happen? For many trainers, yes. The word 'no' means that the dog must stop what they are doing or else they will suffer a terrible consequence. I say terrible because in order for a punishment to "work" it must be delivered with such intensity and force so that the animal never ever wants to do it again. Ok, so the animal stops doing what they are doing, but what about showing the animal what you want him to do instead? Forceful trainers will keep using punishment for every little move that the animal makes until they happen to get it right. For example, with shock collar training, the shock is delivered on a high intensity until the dog figures out how to sit by simultaneously hanging the dog up by his collar and leash. The shock stops once the dog is sitting. Punishment and intimidation is used to get the dog to submit. Yikes! Could you imagine if someone was pinching you as hard as they could until you figured out an algebra problem? What if they were screaming "No!" at you and slapping you in the back of the head until you figured out to solve the problem? You would experience a high level of stress and a negative association to algebra. You definitely wouldn't be excited to work with that person again.
Now take a big sigh of relief! There is another way to say, 'no' and there is another way to train you dog in a way that is enjoyable and highly rewarding for both you and your dog. First off, you must learn how to train yourself to be highly observant and attuned to your dog's behaviors. For example, if you know that your puppy likes to sneak off to chew on a certain table leg, be aware of your puppy heading off in the direction with that yummy leg in mind. If your dog has a habit of lunging at other dogs on leash, be observant of your surroundings and anticipate your dog's behavior at certain distances. If your puppy pees when you come in the door when he first sees you, take note and decide to stay calm and ignore him until he calms down. So many behaviors can be prevented and avoided if only humans were a little more mindful of their actions, environment and their dog's basic psychology. Again, in the words of the Dalai Lama, "First one must change. I first watch myself, check myself, then expect changes from others."
Secondly, teach your puppy or dog to give you attention when you give an interrupter signal. An interrupter signal is a noise that gets your dog's attention. The kissy noise or a clucking noise with your tongue is a universal attention grabbing noise for dogs. Try it. I guarantee you your dog will look up at you. As soon as he does, say, "Good!" and toss him a treat on the floor. Before you dog has time to look back up at you for another treat, kiss or cluck again and as soon as he looks at you say, "Good look!" and drop another treat. Do this several times and then start attaching a cue, "Look!" and then reward again. You can also do this same exercise with a a quick clap of your hands. Don't do it too loud. You don't want to scare your dog. Now, the next time that your puppy starts heading over to chew on your furniture, bust out your super duper kissy noise! As soon as your puppy stops and looks at you say, "Good look!" and then walk in the opposite direction of the one that your puppy was heading in. Encourage him to follow you and then say, "Where's your toy?" and encourage him to pick up a chew toy in his mouth that's his. The idea is to not just blabber "No!" all the time, but to teach your dog that he is more than welcome to chew on all things that are his.
So what if you do catch your puppy with your favorite shoe in his mouth? Exercise your Zen buddhist meditations and take a deep breath. Sorry, but you were the one who left your fav Ferragamo on the floor. There is another universal interrupter noise that people use with other humans and animals all the time, "Uh-uh!". It kind of sounds like a dolphin noise. Your puppy will stop chewing on your shoe for a moment, then grab a chew toy and ask him to "drop it". As soon as your puppy drops it, say "Good drop it!" and then give it the toy to your dog. Take your favorite shoe away and put it away where your teething puppy can't get a hold of it. Once you've taught your puppy the command for "leave it", you can proof your shoes and other personal items to ensure that your puppy knows that human things are off limits.
It's all about taking the time and energy to teach and show your dog or puppy how you want him to live your human environment. It's only fair to realize that we are asking a lot out of these wonderful companion animals to live a fairly unnatural lifestyle by living in apartments and/or small yards with no freedom to run and play at will. Following your puppy around and barking "No!" at him will only turn you into a blabbering Peanuts character. You'll start to sound something like this... "Wawawhahah...No!...wawa wa wa...Bruno! No!...wa wawa" etc. Your dog will not take you seriously and will not be learning what to do instead. Use your brain to train and exercise patience and control. People that use physical intimidation in response to bad behavior are usually delivering it at all the wrong times and are using knee-jerk neanderthal moves to force their dogs into "submission" or in other words, into a dog that is too scared to move for fear that something bad will happen to them.
Using positive reinforcement techniques, you can train anything! Chickens, whales, horses, cheetahs, dogs, etc. Right now I'm training my bunny Bob using a clicker and carrots. The beautiful part about it is that it builds trust, communication and respect between you and your pet. Say "Yes!" to your dog and let the journey of positive reinforcement begin!
Daisy and Bob

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