Thursday, November 13, 2008
Take Me to Your Leader
Two weeks ago in training class, one of our attendees, who had just adopted a fun-loving young pit bull named Bruno, relayed to me in an exasperated voice that her newly adopted companion kept getting up on the sofa with her when she sat down at night to watch television. Furrowing her brow, she sent an embarrassed glance down at the butterball of blue/grey fur sitting obediently at her side and whispered: “How do I stop Bruno from trying to dominate me?”
I looked down at Bruno. Bruno looked up at me. If Bruno were capable of mimicking human movement and speech, he would have shrugged his chubby doggie shoulders and said, “Uhm . . . what?”
Without getting too far into it here (Google Ian Dunbar and Jean Donaldson), suffice it to say that in my personal experience, training dogs utilizing the outmoded ideas of dominance/submission is kind of like blow drying your hair by sticking your finger in a light socket.
In other words, you can get there from here, but, uhm . . . why?
Example: Your spouse comes into the living room and wants you to hoist your butt off the sofa, peel your eyes away from the television screen, and accompany her to her best friend’s house that evening for a dinner party. How best does she motivate you to do so?
A. A swift kick in the ass followed by a two-by-four to the head followed by a military style dressing down in which you are called every four letter word in the book as well as "pansy boy"?
B. A yummy treat, accompanied by the drink of your choice, and followed up with a little something/something in the next room.
Unless you’re into A. (not that there’s anything wrong with that) you are most likely going to pick some version of B. More flies with honey and all that.
It works with dogs, too. Because 99.9999 percent of domestic canines could give a flying leap about dominating or submitting because they quite simply are not motivated by acquiring or acquiescing power. They’re motivated by comfort, fun, and satisfaction. So if you want a behavioral model for dog training, don't look to the wolf. Look to a two to three year old human child.
Those of you who have or have had toddlers know what I’m talking about. Your three year old doesn’t want to make his bed because, whaaaaa, it’s too haaaaard. Nor does he want to brush his teeth because it’s not as fun as playing with his choo-choos. And he certainly doesn’t want to eat his broccoli because, dang it, broccoli is definitely not as yummy as Jell-O pudding pops.
So, if you were a dog would you rather sleep on the floor or on the sofa? Sit by silently while your owner does laundry or play ball in the backyard? Eat an organically crafted, gluten-free treat or the entire contents of your refrigerator’s cheese bin?
Relax, I told Bruno's owner, he’s not trying to dominate you. He’ s just trying to get comfortable. He also wants to get close to you, because he recognizes that, since you are obviously his Giver of all Good Things (Magically appearing food! Car rides! Tug of war! Belly rubs!), you must also be very, very clever when it comes to picking best spot in the house to rest. Why wouldn't Bruno also want to share that with you?
The dog's sin, obviously, is not one of dominance, but of opportunism.
But, heck, that's just my opinion. If you insist on believing that your dog is trying to dominate you, fine. At least do me this one favor: Get up and go take a really, really good look at that mass of fur snoring away in the sun. Now tell me, if he or she somehow DID manage to wrest away your power and control, what, exactly, do you think they would DO with it? Besides, the cat would eventually wake up from its nap and take it all back anyway.