February 2, 2015
Taking Responsibility for Training
Last week, a friend wrote a wonderful post about bad dogs. I could relate to every word - I've always been attracted to the more complicated, independent types. My first dog was a Chow/German Shepherd mix, and she was nearly perfect because she had an incredible nature, not because she did anything I asked. While I appreciate discerning temperaments, selective hearing, creative hobbies such as freestyle landscaping and trash can physics, I know that not everyone sees the beauty of the free dog spirit. Wild is the thing we've been selectively breeding out of our canine companions for centuries. As the guardian of a challenging, reactive dog, I'm hyper-aware of my responsibility to keep her safe and thereby keep others around us safe. I'm sure that the people who see her spinning and barking on our walks don't think she is a well-trained dog, and may have their own opinions about me and my training abilities, but they don't know the full story, the effort I've put in, or the fact that even professional trainers have declared her "a tough case."
What I know is that I take many steps to manage her reactivity. I keep her on leash, I employ safety methods such as equipment backup and two forms of identification. I installed window film to keep the peace in a complex with an increasing number of dog neighbors. Ultimately, I am responsible for every positive or negative experience that Ruby has. As an advocate of positive reinforcement, I am also responsible for living up to the tenet of "Do No Harm," even if this means risk of embarrassment or refuting the advice of someone who suggests I use training methods I don't believe in. I am responsible for identifying which behaviors are simply annoying and which are potentially dangerous. I would love for Ruby to be seen by outsiders as the dog I know and adore, but I refuse to skip steps or compromise my training values just to look good.
Positive training is a work in progress and I never want to stop learning or grow complacent. I can always do more. The winter months and early dark make it difficult for both dogs to get a decent walk, let alone one-on-one leash-walking training time. I have been having some success in redirecting Ruby to sit when she sees a car, and eventually I'd like to be able to employ this with her more formidable triggers. Her lack of recall has led to some scary incidents, and with the advent of a long line, I want to focus on improving this when the weather allows. I've also installed what I hope is a backup plan in that I've taught a "run home" cue that we practice on leash. Ruby is my squirrely girly, and Boca's recent trips to the vet have emphasized the importance of a cooperative patient. To encourage Ruby to be more receptive to handling, I have been working on a "tag" cue which is essentially a verbal indication that I am going to touch her and she is going to get a treat. I love trick training, so it's great when we can find practical applications for learned behaviors. Ruby is my responsibility, and through positive training methods, I am working toward helping her be a little less wild.
February is Responsible Pet Owners Month, and as part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop along with Cascadian Nomads and Tenacious Little Terrier, I invite you to share your posts about how responsibility relates to training, or any other positive training topic!