In this video I am training Coyote to pull the mast of a ship up for the upcoming Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!). Well, I think that’s what I’m training. Watch the video to see what Coyote actually learns!
So much of life is like this-you are trucking right along thinking you know what’s happening and those around you just aren’t with your program. That’s why dog training is such a great Zen training tool-it’s like a controlled laboratory where you mix your view of the world, your goals, and the chaos of the universe. And you get immediate results to judge your views. The Chaos is provided by the dogs-and this is chaos light; remember that the dogs have been selectively bred for eons to respond to your training; and it’s still this hard!
This is a really good example of how to train a sit and stay. I’m doing it with six dogs and you can see how chaotic my dogs are and how effective positive reinforcement is at directing them to a perfect sit. Eventually. One day they’ll hear a bell and just immediately go to their designated spot. This is what I am starting with.
At this point in time I’ve just started training all six dogs to sit in order-this is actually the second training session, the first is also posted on my blog page. Anyway, you can see me working the dogs’ triggers (watch Mouse especially for the improvements)-one thing is that I’ll reach for the food and they’ll break their sit and I’ll stop my hand. I’ll get them to realize that the hand moving means nothing so they’ll start to make eye contact while I bring my hand down. Eventually I’ll put the food down below their head and only when they continue to make eye contact will I click to indicate that the treat is available for consumption and release them to get the treat.
Another thing to note is that I ignore all of the chaos especially presented by the puppies, Coyote and Squirrel. All of the jumping and running around are simply ignored-Note also that I miss many many opportunities to give them treats when they do get into position. I’m pretty good at training and have amazing coordination, but it astounds me how much better I could be if I was faster. In my defense, there is a LOT going on with the six dogs all expectantly vying for attention.
Another item to note is that the dogs have really never been asked to sit still-my goal has always been to have them doing tricks and you can see evidence of this as, throughout the video, the dogs keep jumping into the ring and presenting tricks, and how Mouse keeps going up into a Sit High or raising just one paw-trying out their tricks to see if that’s what I want. They just can’t believe that all I want is a simple sit.
Counter-Intuitively, I believe that training them to sit still will create more eagerness for them. It should also allow for much faster transitions in the actual show. By managing the dogs’ sits better they’ll be able to focus on when it is their turn to come out in the ring to perform. Even if you don’t care about starting a circus, imagine how great it would be if, while on a walk with your dog and your dog sees another dog and starts pulling at the leash and barking, you could say sit and your dog would just sit. How great would that be? That’d be amazing. Sit-it’s the key to a well-behaved dog.
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“You have to teach the dog who’s boss,” is what I often hear when I ask professional dog trainers what the most important thing in training a dog is. When I inquire further they confirm my suspicion that the trainer thinks that he is the boss. Ha! One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the dog is definitely the boss!
Sure, you can get good obedience from the traditional techniques of leash jerks, shoving the dog’s body into the “correct” position, and using harsh words. It’s worked for hundreds of years and it still works. But the simple undeniable fact is that there is now a better way, a way for the dog to have fun and learn to do far more than just the simple, sit, down, stay, heel, and come.
It’s the Socratic Method for dogs! Free Shaping! But it is helpful to explore what it is about the old-school methods that works in order to show why they should be rejected.
The leash jerk and yelling are negatives that the dog will work to stop, and eventually work to keep from happening, though I’ve rarely seen a dog not get a regular “reminder,” justified in this philosophy in order to keep his focus. The trainer using these techniques is basically utilizing the natural instinct to run away from a monster. And the trainer in this case is the monster. Luckily, dogs are smart enough to know the dual nature of humanity, that we can perpetrate evil while justifying the means used with the desired end result. Luckily there is a long history of eugenics at work here, by which I mean we have bred selectively for this trait.
Trainers will go on with theories of how they are using the natural order, the way things work in the wild; the pack leader maintains his authority through violence therefore it’s not just justified, but actually mandatory for learning to take place. Some trainers even advocate peeing on things because the dog that gets his smell up the highest is the top dog …. That’s gross; and the mentality that I no longer argue against, at least one-on-one.
Before I gave up on talking to these trainers, I would be treated with derision. Obviously there is no way a human with full consciousness could come up with a better method than a wild animal following instincts.
The truth is that the dog at every second has free will and I’ve seen highly trained dogs with lots of obedience titles running, as if for their very lives, once they’ve gotten free from these trainers who have way more formal training than me. I never fail to laugh in these cases, thinking to myself, “Who’s the boss now?” I”m actually LOL-ing right now just at the thought.
A dog in this situation knows a correction awaits. The irony is that once the dog is with the trainer he should get a treat; a reward for getting caught would increase the chances of a willing return in the future. But no, he’s being punished for something that happened in the past. “Just look at him. He knows what he did wrong,” these trainers will say. But I’m convinced that the dog doesn’t know. That “guilty” look? I’m convinced it’s simple fear-the trainer is mad and the dog would look like that regardless of what he had done. I’ve seen these dogs look that way when another dog is being chased down.
A personal story to elucidate this point. One time (ha, this is an ongoing battle) I was trying to get Mouse to stop barking when I let him out in the patio-there is just about always a squirrel that needs to be barked at. I totally had a list of triggers that I was addressing. The thought of going outside would make him bark so I had him in a down as I approached the door, opened it, I walked through, and then I’d call him to me and lie down again before going out the door. Then I released him and grabbed him in a hug as he lunged through the door. I pet him in encouragement at not barking at each stage. Well, I released him, still watching carefully, and sure enough he does his little bounce to emphasize the bark that he’s about to do, and I’m totally lunging at him to grab him before he barks.
I’ll pause to mention that my reaction time is incredible, my reflexes finely honed, my eye-hand coordination remarkable even among passers at The Texas Juggling Society where I am known to catch any trick throw no matter how badly executed. I’ve made my living as a juggler for many years.
As we return to the Mouse story, a reminder: I started my correction before the bark even occurred. Well, Mouse did in fact bark as I was in mid leap, lunging at him. He finished his bark, bounced over to the fence and had lifted his leg and was actually peeing by the time I got to him and gave him a poke to redirect him. I could see it in his eyes, or at least projected it, “What am I doing wrong?” I believe there was zero connection between the bark that had occurred less than a half second before and me poking him.
Here’s the thing, the only thing one can teach someone is that one is a jerk. Everything else has to be independently learned. Sure, you can get some tips and that is what Free Shaping is all about. It lets a dog discover what you want him to do; this is the opposite of teaching him to not do things to avoid punishers. Trust me, the one thing your dog wants to do in this world is to please you.
Just about anytime a dog isn’t doing what you want? It’s because he doesn’t know what you want. This is the very foundation of my training and a perspective that is indispensable in guiding any training plan.