The stuff that sells dog training on TV is amazing for entertainment value. The cases usually look severe and are talked up to a point that a resolution seems impossible. Yet, in a few minutes, miracles occur. I’m not big on miracles in dog training. Especially not when the motive is for entertainment value. Definitely not when the dog suffers physical or psychological harm in order to suppress the behaviour whilst making a trainer look like Jesus. I’m not a fan of instant behaviour change that could have been modified using less harmful (but less flashy and TV worthy) methods. Behaviour that is suppressed whilst the consultant is present but returns or worsens later because the methods are too dangerous or distressing for guardians to continue on their own are not helpful.
A lot of problems that everyday people have with their everyday dogs may not involve drastic, dangerous behaviour. However, the impact of these problems on daily life are not trivial. Problems can involve some very annoying things, like barking. This is a behaviour which doesn’t physically injure anyone, yet it can be an exasperating and persistent frustration driving a wedge between a guardian and their relationship with their dog, not to mention friends and neighbours. Dogs get relinquished or euthanized for excessive barking. It’s a tiresome habit that can make enjoyable events, like having visitors, extremely stressful. It’s often a practice that a guardian can be at a loss to remedy by themselves but for which a Google search provides all the answers; yet none seem to work when put into practice.
Did I say I don’t believe in miracles in dog training? I don’t believe that a behaviour that has been strongly practised for months or years is suddenly “cured” in one 30 minute TV episode. Or one YouTube video – yet I personally do enjoy contributing to YouTube. I do, however, believe that amazing transformations can occur at breakneck speed. You just need to know what you are doing. Nothing beats throwing out the one-size-fits-all recipe book on changing behaviour (especially the TV and internet recipes books) and utilizing individual assessment of the subject and the environment where the problem occurs. Trust me on this. I also think the changes made using humane techniques that honour the dog as a sentient being and a member of the family are amazing and can also be entertaining. I retain a sense of wonder when a dog responds to something very subtle I have done with my body language, my timing, or my consistency. How awesome to achieve success without the need to manhandle a dog into position or continually correct verbally or physically. I love the part of my job that is hands-off the dog. Hands-off except for the belly rubs and scratches, to those dogs who enjoy it of course.
Here’s an example of what faster-than-a-speeding-bullet training can look like. It’s done in real time with very little editing. This example is specific to Humphrey and is not a “how-to” example to cure barking for all dogs. It’s a “how it was done specifically for Humphrey” example. First, Humprey’s behaviour was assessed by asking lots of questions about the problem and getting as much history as possible. Then the behaviour was observed, including a functional analysis or test of the behaviour. The purpose of this test was to confirm what the behaviour looked like, what triggered it and what might help resolve it. The plan is then demonstrated to the guardian to continue. This is really important. It has to be reproducible by the guardian, not just the consultant, since it’s the guardian who will be continuing the training. If followed, this plan will work to decrease and ideally stop this behaviour. At this stage, after only one session of teaching, Humprey’s barking isn’t “fixed”. However, he has shown he has the potential to learn very quickly if taught consistently and is prevented from practising the behaviour in between training session.
OK, so maybe not a blockbuster movie full of suspense and drama but I’m sure in Humphrey’s world it has made an impact.
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