Wednesday, February 25, 2015

All Creatures Large and Small

All creatures large and small have attention getting behaviors. Some are used to alert others of danger and some are to alert others to a source of food. All use lots of behaviors to get the attention of a potential mate. This is normal. Now here is the kicker. Your dog will respond to your attention getters too. For example, say you are a yeller. You are constantly correcting but you don't follow through with instruction. You follow through with intimidation or force. And your tactics frustrate you because you have to behave in a way that outdoes your dog's behavior. Your relationship is based on telling and punishing. Neither of which is something your dog understands. It may understand it needs to be submission to quiet things down but that doesn't mean it has learned anything.

When there is a behavior that your dog does and you want it to do something else, you need to set your dog up for success. For example, when Coco and I were in service dog training school there was a command they needed to do. Back.. In class, they were along a wall and they couldn't go forward. The only way they could move was straight back. Every step back earned praise, Good back. Good girl, good back. Lots of repetition and instruction gave her brain and body a chance to learn this skill. Then when we applied it in stores, again, we were in a situation where she could only walk straight backwards. Lots of praise.

Eventually, I used a hand signal with her and she cued me when we needed to go back and it became more like a dance. Coco, all on her own, will decided if an aisle is too congested for us to get through and she will stop, look at me and we will go backwards. She has done this in a parking lot or in a restaurant. Always looking for where we need to go and always prepared to change directions.

So when our dingbat animals, our brilliant Akitas are doing something to get our attention try to figure out what type of attention they are getting used to. We generally set the tone. I remember seeing this with so many of my fosters. Especially ones that had been yelled at or worse. One of the sweetest dogs I ever fostered was Chelsie. She had been left for dead in the backyard, chained to a tree, when the people moved away. There had been terrible storms for a couple of weeks so she was completely deaf and very sick when she came to me. One thing I noticed was she didn't want to go into the kitchen, which is where our side door to outside and walks is and where the food and water is kept. She would get low to the ground and practically crawl with her ears flat down and this sorrowful look on her face. I knew she had been yelled at, seriously intimidated and she had learned her lesson but she was left with scars.

So I started helping her so she wouldn't feel afraid. Now she may have gotten food off a counter or into a garbage can so she may have done that. A lot of people insist on keeping open garage cans in kitchens and then get mad at the dog when it gets food out or out of boredom drags it through the house. Instead of getting a can with a good secure lock on it or putting it covered in a pantry or laundry room or in a lower cabinet. I had to get a baby lock for a cabinet door once because that was where I kept the garbage. Instead of yelling at my dog I set my dog up for success.

Our dogs learn so much when we teach and reward instead of punish and reward. Trying to figure out how to get ahead of a bad behavior and train or teach your dog what it needs to do to get lots of positive attention is the challenge and the difference between conditioning a dog to respond to your attention getting behavior and you developing a teamwork relationship that is actually a two way communication that enriches all of your lives. Chelsie got over her fear and looked at that kitchen like a fantastic gateway to outside and long walks and treats and when I was cooking she would join the others and lay just outside of the kitchen waiting for something yummy to happen. Oh and with proper Vet care her terrible ear infection cleared up and she could hear again. It took some time before she got better so I trained her by tapping my foot on the ground twice, an attention getting behavior, and giving her a hand signal. Both of these love bugs were fully trained and went into terrific homes.

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