Now for the third “D”, the one that is typically the root of all evil when it comes to problem behaviors…DISTRACTION!
As you can probably guess on your own, Distraction is the hardest issue for people who own dogs. Ironically, it is also the biggest challenge for parents, spouses, students, and the list goes on. So, why do we get so frustrated when dealing with our dogs? Typically it’s because we don’t properly know how to deal with the intense distractions our dogs encounter outside the home, which triggers frustration and lack of patience on our part.
I try to get across to my students that most dogs I teach will be with their owner for at least the next 8-12 years, so you can hardly expect them to be trained in 8 weeks! It takes our kids 12 years just to “be ready” for college, let alone to be grown up enough to make all the right decisions. Do not fall into the mindset that any dog problem can be solved in only an hour on TV (and that includes commercials!) I am here to tell you that training a dog does not take an hour, a week, or even through the time it takes to attend a beginner obedience class. Instead, it takes a lifetime! This relationship is why we adopt, rescue and save dogs (I hope!), so relax and enjoy it.
With distraction, we can also use the “Rule of 2” (see post on “The 3 D’s The first 2”), but we will have to change the idea of using numeric intervals, because at its heart, Distraction is measured by the intensity of the Distraction, not the number of distractions. This alone should explain why a dog that is great at recall in the living room, runs for the hills right outside the front door. In this case, under a low level of Distraction (living room,) Fido does fine, but when we up the strength of Distraction (front yard) he fails miserably. Once again, teaching Distraction, like Duration and Distance, requires not only patience but the elimination of our frustration as well.
When I begin to teach Distraction control in my classes, one of my primary goals is to emphasize that dogs do not generalize when they are being trained. A dog who is a champ at fetch inside, might be totally clueless when we try the same behavior in the back yard. It is very important to understand that as we move through each level of Distraction we must do some re-teaching! Don’t worry though, each time you teach the same behavior, even in a new environment, it will come easier and faster with repetition; but we cannot expect a dog to carry his past lessons to the next level we are teaching without more opportunities.
For example, if I am teaching recall, I start inside the house – the area they are most familiar with. Once the dog is reliable there, I move to the backyard – the next most known area. The next step is the front yard – this one will take longer and I use a long line to help ensure safety and success.
To reinforce this behavior, I begin to work in city parks and then finally in off-leash dog parks At the end of this process (and trust me…it won’t be mastered consistently for many months!) you will have a dog that has a reliable recall in most situations. This process of starting with less Distraction and moving to more Distraction should be an aha moment for most. If I had a dollar for every time I got the question “Why does Fido do this perfectly at home, but when he gets to class he forgets everything?” I’d be very wealthy!
The simple answer to the question is that Fido has not forgotten anything! He just doesn’t know how to react with this new level of Distraction. Be patient and allow him to learn at a normal pace or, if possible, move to a less distracting environment (sometimes success requires taking a step backwards!)
I hope this last piece of information to finish the discussion on the “Three D’s” makes the path you are following as you train your dog more understandable. In the end, you should have more information, a lot more patience and be less frustrated with Fido the next time he does not “get it!”
OK if you don’t know who Patricia McConnell is well, you can thank me later for the introduction. She is one of the best (in my not so humble opinion) in the field of dogs and dog training.
Today I want to share a two part post from her on the subject of Thunder Storm Phobias in Dogs and how it is OK to comfort your dog during their anxiety… Many sites will try and convince you that attention while the dog is in the throws of anxiety or fear will actually reinforce the unwanted behaviors. Well she and I think that is BS (my word not hers)
The articles do a great job of explaining why this is not the case plus some nuts and bolts on behavior that will help you overcome, manage or modify your pooches issues!!! As always I try to share folks that I respect and agree with, this is certainly no exception (she rocks)
OK I try and share this video about once a year to show through humor and visual proof… That yes e-collars are painful… I am not throwing rocks at glass houses, and truly believe that there are no bad tools in dog training but there are plenty of bad applications… So if you are thinking of using one of these collars, do your research and make an educated decision.
And if you hear there is really no pain involved… Remember this video!
I get phone calls every day asking if I can fix this problem or can I get a person’s dog to quit doing this or that. It kind of reminds of a bumper sticker I saw recently which said “I am a beautician not a magician.” Don’t get me wrong, as a dog trainer it is my job to get people to relate, understand and fix the rapport between them and their dogs; but unfortunately many people just don’t understand the difference between a behavior and a dog’s personality. So I am going to attempt to break down the difference between the two, and hopefully help you understand what each means and how it relates to your dog and their training.
Years ago when I worked in management, in the real world, a very wise man told me that you can fix behaviors, but to try to fix personalities was about as fruitful as squeezing water from a stone. It was his way of helping me understand just what I could fix in my employees and what I could not! The basics here are simple…a behavior is a choice that can be changed and a personality is a mindset that is unchangeable. That might be a tad simplistic, but overall it is a true statement. Take this scenario as an example; Fred is 44 years old and just had a heart attack. He works 65 hours a week, drinks too much, smokes, never exercises and always has to be in control. His personality type would be considered “Type A” by most people. As he is recovering in the hospital, his doctor comes in and gives Fred an ultimatum, “you can keep living life as you have and die soon, or you can start exercising, quit smoking, quit drinking, cut down on the number of hours you work, get regular check-ups, take proper medication and live to be an old man.” Fred does as the doctor directed and lives to be a ripe old age of 94 years old then dies in his sleep. Now for the $64,000 question…was Fred still a Type A? The answer is of course he was, he simply changed his behaviors. But deep down his personality didn’t change – he was still a “Type A”. So whether we are looking at people or dogs, we must realize that yes, you can change behaviors, but trying to change a personality is well like peeing in the wind (sorry, but it is true).
Your first job as a dog owner or trainer is to determine whether the unwanted action of the dog is due to a behavior or a personality trait. Did you know that a dog’s socialization period (the time frame where they learn to accept and like situations vs. being scared and anxious around the situation) is only from about 3 weeks to roughly 18 weeks of age? Considering the fact that most people don’t bring puppies home till they are between 10-12 weeks old, new dog owners only have a very small window to affect their puppy’s personality. How owners do or don’t socialize the pup will have a direct effect on the behaviors the manifest, based on what the dog’s personality ultimately becomes. So as a trainer I will say (AGAIN) that I would be out of a job if folks would only ensure that all puppies get tons of positive associations during those first few weeks; they learn that the world is a fun environment that is not only safe, but in many cases full of rewards. Unfortunately, many dogs, which as puppies are ignored, are in shelters or for many other reasons are not exposed to the world at all. This leads to the dog learning to be anxious, nervous, scared and even aggressive when exposed to anything new, and unfortunately anything new to a dog is in most cases scary.
So what does this have to do with the personality vs. behavior discussion? Simple, the overall emotional make up of a dog is the personality and it can rarely be fixed. In my mind those less than desirable personality traits (being nervous or anxious) must be managed instead of attempting to train them away. Then the actual behaviors that come from those traits (hiding, growling or barking) can, in most cases, be replaced with what are known as replacement behaviors. Put simply, you are making the new behavior more rewarding than the unwanted behavior.
The moral of this story is to look at behaviors as something that can be changed while personality is something that we are born with. (OK, really they are created by our experiences during critical developmental periods!) The only thing we can change with our dogs, kids, wives, employees or bosses are the specific behaviors that we have the ability to create more rewarding replacement behaviors for.
As I have said for many years, and will continue to say…please, please socialize your puppies when you get them, and you will never have to call me or one of my colleagues! If you get an older dog, realize their personalities are what they are. But never fear, you can always work on specific behaviors.