Friday, January 23, 2009

The Three Big Questions (A Dog's Job)

A bit of a departure today from my usual, lengthy posts...

The Three Big Questions
Whenever you’re training your dog, or even if youre just out walking or playing with him (or her) in the park, there are three questions you can ask yourself that will hopefully make you a better dog trainer, a better owner, and maybe even a better human being:
  1. What can I learn from my dog today about dogs and training?
  2. How can I tune into my dog’s energy and use it in teaching him (or her) how to obey me?
  3. Is there anything my dog’s behavior can teach me about myself so that I can become a better trainer or owner?
If you ask me, dogs are the real experts on training. Ive found that if we can just get quiet for a moment or two, get rid of our own agenda, and come down to their level, they will always show us what to do, and how best to train them. They’ll even show us how to be better human beings if we let them. That’s what they’re made for. That’s their job in life.

"Changing the World, One Dog at a Time"


Angela said...

Simple and oh, so true. I find when I am too caught up in my mind, my dogs let me know it's time to get back in the present and enjoy our walk. I know we are in sync when we can enjoy a walk and I don't need to talk to them at all...we move as one.

Anonymous said...

I have been working very hard with a recently adopted border collie with tons of fear-based behaviors.

My initial primary focus was finding what interested her the most and incorporating training into that. The overall goal was (and is) confidence building, bonding, becoming familiar with her body language and teaching her what I expect of her. She has made dramatic progress.

Not long ago, she was standing and looking at me. She didn't seem to be asking for anything, so after a long moment, I smiled at her. She wagged her tail. After trying it out in different siutations, I discovered she responds really well to just a smile. I have incorporated that into our training or walks when she looks at me for feedback or reassurance.

No need for big praise (overwhelms her) or treats, just a smile. She wags her tail back and carries on knowing she's doing a great job, whatever it happens to be.

As for me? I'm smiling a lot more.

I'm new to the site and have enjoyed reading the various articles and blogs. Thanks!

LCK said...

Thanks for "joining" the blog. I LOVE this comment. It's something I never would have thought of in a million years, and yet for your dog it seems to be the key to something, perhaps the "chink" in her armor.

The funny thing is that in the animal world a smile is thought to be an indicator of aggression. (You're not supposed to smile around wild chimps, eg.)

Personally, I think there's a lot of merit to that idea. So why does your dog have this happy response? I don't think it's just because of the movement of your lips, and how they uncover your teeth. It's probably the feeling that goes with it. That's why your dog likes it when you smile at her.

This reminds me of something that was important to me as a young teenager, growing up in Southern California in the 1960s, which was the music of the Beach Boys.

Here's how Brian Wilson described the connection his biggest hit has to this unique aspect of canine behavior:

"When we were kids our mother told us that dogs can sense a person's vibration -- whether they have a good vibration or a bad one. That's where the song 'Good Vibrations' comes from, from what my mom told us about dogs when we were kids."

(And oddly enough "Good Vibrations" was originally meant to be part of Brian's unfinished masterpiece, a concept album called ... SMiLE; which seems to be coming full circle with your doggie.)*

Either way, I think you can see my point. You obviously have a very good vibration with your dog...

Try the "Pushing Exercise" with her. It's on the blog. Just click on "Swimming Upstream," and read my description. It might help her a lot.


*PS: Brian finally finished the SMiLE album a few years ago. He had help from a guitarist I know named Jeffery Foskett. Small world, huh?

summerinbrooklyn said...

Oh I remember that comment from Brian Wilson and love it!! It's so true... It's funny, with Summer I do all the things that supposedly animals don't like - I smile at her to reassure her, I bend over her head to cuddle her, I grab her by the belly and bury my head in her scruff to smell her fur, I smooch her on the lips and sniff her ears. She not only tolerates me, she pushes against me to make more contact. I sincerely believe she understands that my stupid displays of affection are genuine and not threatening. Sometimes she comes to me and leans on my leg and pulls her head up so I can bend over her for a smooch. ANd if I don't do that, she waggles her butt and swings around repeatedly until I pay her some attention. And like LJH, I think of nothing better than to stand there and smile at her whenever we're walking around off leash and she turns her head back to me to wait while I catch up. I think of it as giving her assurance that I'm right there with her.

LCK said...

It's funny how this thread morphed into one about smiles, because I think when we DO try to see things from our dogs' perspective, we tend to smile and laugh a lot more.

Interestingly, Dalmatians are supposedly the only breed that smiles. (I knew a Rottweiler named Baby who did it.) And I'm not just talking about that half-open mouth dogs get after a good play session. I'd call that a happy face, but not necessarily a smile. What Dalmatians do is they curl their lips back in what I can only describe as a half-snarl, half-smile that's mistakenly called a "submissive grin" by behavioral "experts." (It's not an act of submission -- dogs don't know what that is -- it's more of a half-threatening, half-non-threatening expression.)

I accidentally (or not so accidentally) taught Freddie to smile on command.

When he was very young I caught him taking one of my socks into his crate. (We had a rule: "You only chew things in your room...") And I said something like, "Hey! That's my sock!"

He dropped it and smiled at me.

I immediately tuned in to his emotions and said, "Smile, Freddie! Gimme that smile!" which made him grin harder, with his head tilted sideways and his ears doing the thing Summer's Mommy described, which I always called "ear flaps." (I used to get him to do THAT on command too, by saying, "Freddie! Get your ear flaps on!")

Anyway, the next time I sensed that Freddie was in a similar mood, but wasn't "smiling" about it, I said to him, "Freddie, gimme that smile!" and he immediately did it again! And this was several weeks after that first incident!

This was kind of amazing to me because he'd learned it just once, and I hadn't given him any positive reinforcement to speak of to "motivate" him to want to do it again. It was all a matter of being sensitive to his emotions, finding that moment later on when he was in the same (or a similar) emotional state, and giving him the same command with the same emotional tone in my voice.

Throughout most of his life (until he was really old and had very little energy), I could get him to "smile" for me on command just by saying, "Gimme that smile!" in the exact same tone of voice I'd used that first day.

I think tuning in to his emotions was the key.


LJH said...

Hi Lee;

I keep coming back to this topic frequently. I find the 3 questions are great to keep me focused and moving forward with my dog.

It's helped develop a lovely and strong bond. Focusing on her also keeps me thinking outside the box (just to keep up with her amazing intelligence to keep her stimulated).

While she remains sweet natured, her confidence has grown tremendously since my last post.

Head up, happy tail when we're out, able to easily handle herself at the dog park. Her extreme multiple fears and almost all phobias (except the crate) are either gone or reduced to simply a "cautious" attitude (i.e. loud noises).

I used the dog park (later on) to work with her on long distance training and hand signals under high distraction. She surpassed all of my expectations and has been completely reliable no matter what she's in the middle of with other dogs.

She has become a role model of sorts at the park, with many people telling me they wish their dog was half as well mannered and obedient as she is.

Hard to believe that only 4 mos ago she was terrified, fear-peeing little dog.

I have the 3 questions posted on my fridge as a way to focus myself as we start each day anew.

Thanks for those.