This post is primarily about increasing the quality of the communication through good timing and instruction. I will talk more about motivation strategies in another post.
Timing is everything in dog training. What are the goals of all good dog trainers?
- Communicate specific behaviors that you want a dog to do - or not do in the case of inappropriate behaviors
- Motivate the dog to do the behavior on cue
If you are a novice dog trainer and ever feel like your dog is "just not getting it". Look at number one. If you think your dog "knows" the behavior and is choosing not to do it, look at number two.
Let me explain the title of this post. I was in the park the other day with my three dogs and a woman named Stacy came up to me and asked me a dog training question. This happens a lot and I am always happy to talk about dog training. She asked about her two miniature poodles because they sometimes play a bit rough with each other and she was concerned that the smaller one was getting tormented. The timing was good, because her pups were engaging in the behavior as she was describing it.
I gave her my assessment, which was that it seemed okay based on the fact that the little one seemed fairly relaxed and was not getting more and more stressed out during each altercation. She also intiated play a few times after her brother stopped playing. That is another good sign.
I did give her some tips to practice if the situation escalated and the smaller pup seemed uncomfortable. No sooner than we said that, we looked over and the bigger male was on top of his sister and she seemed very uncomfortable. Stacy walked over and removed the male gently and led him away from his sister. I was happy that she noticed that things were getting a bit rough and was punishing him by removing him from the situation. By the way, "punishment" does not have to mean physical or mental abuse. There are many strategies for effective punishment using humane methods. Removing a dog from a situation for acting inappropriately is one example.
I watched the scene for a moment because I can never get tired of watching dog behavior. She walked her puppy away, gently had him managed so he couldn't gain access to his sister . . . and then the mistake. "No!, Bad Dog! Don't play rough with your sister!"
I cringed. Not because she was doing anything inhumane, but she was doing something that was at a minimum a waste of her time and possibly counter-productive. What did she do that was so terrible? She communicated to her dog that it was innappropriate to stand nicely next to her. Whoops.
Every single interaction with your dog can be utilized properly which will result in clear communication, lack of frustration and will facilitate a faster road to success. Every time you are inconsistent, or communicate to your dog something that is confusing, there will be a breakdown in the learning process. It is just that simple.
So, what should Stacy have done to give clear communication? She had it right until the final moment. She should think about the reward and the punishment and reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. In this case the reward was access to the other dog, the punishment was getting taken away from the other dog. The desired behavior that Stacy was looking for was not acting too rough. Even this needs to be defined better to avoid confusion. My recommendation for rough behavior is excessive jumping, biting, grabbing or pulling where the other dog seems uncomfortable.
To put it into action, she should have talked to her puppy when he was acting nicely, within the range of appropriate behaviors. "Good boy, thanks for not being too rough, nice job." AS SOON as he performed a behavior on the inappropriate list, she should have gently moved him away as she did (having a puppy trail a leash is good for this). Then, AS SOON as he calms down, let him go play and continue the communication while he is acting appropriately.This pattern should continue until he either "gets it" and understands what is appropriate, or Stacy runs out of time and had to go home. Eventually he will learn how to behave so he has access to his sister.