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.


h said...

Very interesting. I've always used the old method myself. Any books you can recommend on the new method?

Bretthead said...

You know Bruno is a leg humper.

moi said...

Troll: Anything by Jean Donaldson or Ian Dunbar. Also, this article explains the differences between each "method":

WTWA: A lover, not a fighter.

Jenny said...

bwahah - love the kat with the uzzy. Where was that when I did my mute?

I used to believe in the Cesar Milan way to "training" dogs and I'm so glad to hear you de-bunk it. It did nothing for my dogs except teach them I'm an ass. Or did they teach me that? Anyhoo, yes, yes, to treats and positive reinforcement and to tossing out the stupidity that they want to DOMINATE. Pffft. I know what they want... my BTU's and I also think they are staying close to protect me. After all, I'm their food source.

moi said...

A.B.: The problem with across the board negative reinforcement training is that it cows the dog into submission. The outward behavior LOOKS different, but that's only because the underlying, supposedly unwanted behavior, is being suppressed. It hasn't been changed or replaced.

Jenny said...

you. are. brilliant.

I agree. Somebody messed up my Mickey and I'll be spending the rest of his life trying to let him know "we're" sorry.

Gnomeself Be True said...

I'd like to comment here, but Mistress Heather won't let me.

Wicked Thistle said...

I really, really wish we'd had this conversation much earlier in my career.

czar said...

All of which is fine, presuming your dog or three-year-old gets some exercise. For three-year-olds who need to be bribed with food to do (household chores, homework, basic life skills, anything), I refer you to a U.S. population that is overfed and undernourished, and Wal-Marts around the country where you have to walk sideways down the aisles because one or two people by themselves take up too much room.

moi said...

A.B.: See, that's the thing. While I will make a case for the use of some negative reinforcement methods in some instances, in the vast majority of instances, it's overkill. Literally as well as figuratively.

Iamnot: Does she reprimand you with, "Bad dog, bad!"?

Wicked: At which point I would have told you, run, Wicked, run! And become a professional knitter instead!

Czar: Well, of course children aren't dogs and dogs aren't children. Then again, I don't understand having either one if you're not going to put them to work.

Anonymous said...

Clan men train our canines. Hmmn...?
I'd wish't I could train the men, but thas' fallacy.


Doris Rose said...

Can I borrow that picture for my NaNoWriMo project...right after I give my widdle bebbes some luvins.

moi said...

Aunty: Actually, and I can't remember where I put it now, I have an article about an animal behaviorist who used her tactics on her husband. If I can find it, I'll send it to you.

DorisRose: Which one, the whip or the gun :o)?

Anonymous said...

i find that when i dress up in patent leather hip boots and carry a whip my trouter falls into line very naturally.

you know i actually tried the biting on the muzzle as a natural correction a la momma wolf? i dont know -trout is my autistic dog. shes got her own things she is about and if she has time, she might let you love on her. grrherha

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I just lurve that Combat Kitty!

That latex suit is a bit scary though.

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