What's the Big Deal About Nice?

I continue to ponder the thinking behind punishing a dog for failure to do a down signal -- probably because it is a good way to think about dog training in general. 

The scenario: Handler at a distance gives the signal. Dog does his, "I am a majestic statue incapable of moving a hair" and so handler marches back and uses the choke/jerk/strangle collar to abuse/womanhandle the dog to a down.

It appears to me that the handler was hoping to convey to the dog: Respond to my down signal OR ELSE!

The OR ELSE is roughly translated to, "or else I will cause you stress and pain."

Yikes. When is that a good life strategy?! 

In other words, the down signal becomes a threat -- not a cue.

And we know what threat does to a living creature: Fight, Flight, or Freeze. Which of those biologically-programmed choices does "I am a majestic statue incapable of moving a hair" reflect?

It doesn't take too many brain cells to figure out that acting on the OR ELSE will increase and reinforce perception of threat to said frozen dog, thereby establishing "FREEZE" as the default response to the down signal.

And consider that a sensitive dog may well feel "threat" in human disappointment and/or anger even in the absence of a physical assault. 

Dogs cannot use words to give us feedback but their Fight, Flight or Freeze responses speak loud and clear -- if we are listening.

Are your cues to your dog threats -- or invitations? 

(Drumroll please - Claire's debut as a post-it note)

If you assume the dog is doing her best and just doesn't quite understand things, your response will be quite different (and more effective and nicer) than if you think your dog is being _____________________ (insert unflattering word).

And so assume good intentions -- and have a safe and Happy Fourth of July.

P.S. Today Abra would have celebrated her 20th birthday - how I wish!

2 comments

by Kay on Tue, 07/04/2017 - 10:11

Happy 20th birthday, Abra! And in 9 days, Riley would have celebrated his 17th birthday. It's good to think of all the dogs that have lead to the new and very clever puppies that bless our lives this year.

by CA Heidi on Tue, 07/04/2017 - 14:44

We are working with a sweet horse right now, trying to teach him that the long stick with the tiny fluffy string on it will ONLY be used to touch you, as a "hey, lift up HERE," cue, and is not ever again going to be used as a tool to hurt you, which clearly happened in Brazil where he was started.

I like knowing that nice isn't something I will need to counter train for.

~H

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