The sport of dog agility is a popular activity for many dog enthusiasts. I’ve been around it for 13 years now and I have learned a great deal. But many of my fellow competitors remain a mystery to me. Is it a game for humans or is it a game for dogs? Sometimes it can be hard to tell. But I think the dogs know the difference pretty quickly.
The science of dogs and training can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. There are things that we need to know about our dogs and how to train them and there are things that are just nice to know. As science provides us new insights into our dogs, it is important to look at this new information in a larger context. We’re just trying to live better, happier lives with our dogs. Keeping the science in perspective can help us do that.
There are lots of ways to mess up a dog. Fortunately, if you take care and teach your dog well, the little mistakes won’t turn into big problems. It seems a strange paradox that the more you train with your dog, the less likely it is that things will go wrong when you make mistakes!
Motivation is a complex topic. Proponents of operant conditioning would point to simple rewards and punishments delivered to the animal as the way to get reliable behaviour from our dogs. But is that the end of the story? New research on human motivation may shed some light on the internal motivations of dogs and why things work differently than we think.
Have you ever noticed all the different ways that people are mean to their dogs? No? Well, there are plenty of people out there who will tell you that you are “abusing” your dog in one way or another even if you didn’t know you were doing it. Even your dog might not know they are being abused. Welcome to dog training’s “new age!”
We have always called the dog our “faithful” companion. But what is it that we think they have faith in? Not surprisingly, our dogs should have faith in us, their owners. But we don’t get that trust and faith for free. We should live up to it and earn it.
The lives of our dogs are full of patterns. When to eat, when to sleep, when to play ball, and when to respond to our cues. These are all patterns that our dogs learn. You might be surprised to learn that your dog may be learning something different than you are teaching. In fact, you may be teaching your dog something different from what you THINK you are teaching!
Every dog owner is a dog trainer. We can’t help it. It comes with the territory when you bring a dog into your home. Regardless of how good at training dogs you might be, having a clear process for deciding what to train, how to train, and how to determine how successful you are can be a big help. Here’s a practical process that has worked well for me in working with my dogs!
What is a “good dog?” For most people, a “good dog” is one that behaves like the ones they see on TV or in the movies. A dog that does what is expected and never does what is not wanted. A dog that conforms to our vision of what we want. But is that fair? Do we love dogs for what they are or for what we imagine they are supposed to be?
Dogs just want to understand. They come into our human world with no understanding of what we expect of them. So they watch us and they learn. If we are smart dog owners, we help them out and teach them. The good news is, your dog is watching.