Feb 11

Winning Attitudes--Conversing with Dogs

Winning Attitudes - Mental Aspects of Training

                 by guest author Roger Hild


One of my greatest pleasures as a dog trainer comes from seeing a dog owner succeed in the training of their canine companion.  Over the many years spent studying, working on, and improving my craft, I have read hundreds of books, attended countless dog training seminars and learned from some of the best.  Many fine authors have written on the subject and the list of my favorites has become too long for my bookshelves to bear. 


 While studying the various methodologies and techniques, I began to wonder why ordinary dog owners often don’t achieve the same results as those of the experts.  After all, it seems logical to assume that if one were to “follow the recipe,” i.e. follow the technique as described, they should get the same results as the author.  Why then have so many different methods evolved and why do so many people continue to search for “the method,” which will work for them?  It is because what training involves is as much an art as a method (scientific or otherwise).  Training is much more than just learning to apply certain technical skills, it has a very personal aspect which includes the attitudes, personality style and communication abilities of the owner. 

Training is essentially a special kind of conversation.  This conversation includes much more than words and will, in fact, depend much more on actions.  The conversation involves getting to know each other, letting each other know what is needed and/or expected from the other, and what limits will define the emerging relationship.  For example: You may be one who has a lot of people over.  You would like to include your dog in this social activity and you don’t want your dog jumping on your guests plus you have other expectations on how your dog is to behave.  The method of conveying this to your dog will be a part of the “conversation” you have.  You may notice how much the dog enjoys meeting your guests but in return for this “reward” you will make it clear what the limits are and what the consequences will be if he disregards those limits.  How you make your point is “the method.”  One does not have a conversation with a “method,” one uses a method to converse. 

 A conversation is a personal thing.  One must look past “the method,” to the human element in the equation; this is where the answers lie.  Even though the author of any given method does his best to describe what steps to take in order to achieve the desired result, the formula will be incomplete unless the “individual factor,” is considered.  Every trainer has something intangible within their method, a little bit of themself.  They get the best results using their own method because they understand “the conversation” they are having and this conversation is consistent with everything else the dog has come to know about them.

In order to effectively train their dog, one needs to learn how to have this conversation.  This conversation needs to contain all the important pieces.  What you want.  What you do NOT want.  What is acceptable and what is NOT.  A failure to communicate is responsible for many of the problems we have with all of our relationships.  Effective communicators do not withhold information.  They do not say or do what they think the other wants to hear.  They don’t make empty threats.  They are honest about expectations and are genuine in their appreciation and praise.  They are honest about consequences.  With them, you know exactly where you stand.  They say what they think and mean, regardless of how they may be perceived.  please click "read more"....

 Those who may not recognize the importance of this conversation and the role it plays in the personal relationship between dog and owner, may be tempted to substitute “conditioning” for training.  Used in conjunction with other training tools, conditioning can contribute favorably to the overall outcome as it is one of many tools which can be used in a good program.  A program which depends exclusively on conditioning however, will be lacking in some essential elements.  “Conditioning” is the theory that all one needs to do is find the right “motivation,” combine it with the right “schedule of reenforcement,” and provide it often enough until the desired behavior is simply a conditioned response.  Used alone, it is often inefficient and produces results that are not as effective or reliable but when used jointly with other training techniques, those deficiencies can be minimized.  Among some, the oft times touted idea of “100% hands off, touch free training,” has a certain appeal, however, I personally view this development with a degree of sadness.

If you are looking for remote and distant laboratory type training, this is not the book for you.  To me training your dog, learning the conversation, is a hands on intimate experience and not a hands off, cold, clinical experience.  If you are looking for a means to understand each other and from there go on to develop a sound reliable and solid relationship with your dog, read on.

Part of the reason that I believe there is such confusion is that the concept of “motivation” is so poorly understood.  Largely as the result of “Behaviorism,” motivation has come to be generally viewed as something external that the animal will work for, rather than the internal process which I believe it to be. “Behaviorism” came in vogue under B. F. Skinner as a theory to explain and modify behavior.  Part of this theory holds that all behavior is caused/shaped by it’s consequences and that external events were all that need be studied or understood.  The motivation or motivator was simply seen as that “something” that caused the behavior to be repeated.  In training with treats (for example) the food is seen as supplying the motivation for the behavior.  One of the problems with this is that our dogs are not simply some rat in a laboratory maze.  Animals that live in severely restricted environments with very little stimulation or opportunity for healthy relationships, might view the tidbit or “motivator” as the highlight of their day.  Their choices are limited, their social contact is very restricted and their behavior patterns are not normal - hardly good subjects for studying learning theory. 

The following is from Pamela J. Reid - “Excel-erated Learning” pg.15:

“The acceptance of behaviorism went hand in hand with the rejection of the study of the mind.  B. F. Skinner believed that we could understand behavior by studying the things that happen to animals.  There was no need to study what was happening inside the animal's head. Understanding the laws of behavior and how events affect an animal's behavior do not necessitate understanding the mind.  In fact Skinner's form of “radical behaviorism” even rejected the notion that thoughts, feelings, and emotions could cause behavior.”

Psychology (not behaviorism) has undergone a major shift in focus over the past twenty plus years toward a “Cognitive” revolution.  However, while psychology is undergoing shifts in focus, behaviorism remains fixed on the stimulus-response model and thus has been relegated to the academic ghettos of its own creation while the rest of the discipline moves forward.

With this in mind, I believe that motivation is nothing more than information and is an internal event.  Cookies contain calories and leashes are made from material, neither of them contain motivation!!  It is what the cookie or leash come to represent (the recognition of the object and the memory it elicits) that provides the motivation!!  Both recognition and memory are cognitive events and are used in the formation of decisions.  A teaching history that contains all the necessary information, including what consequences to expect (both positive and negative) serves as motivation for all future decisions.  In life, there is a continuous interplay between internal and external events, between cognitive and behavioral.  It would seem that any approach that balances both will have the best chance of success. 

The training conversation begins in the mind of the trainer and it will continue “any” time you and your dog are together.  Something in the trainer sparks a question:“How can I...?,”  “Why does this happen?,”  “Is it possible...?”  Questions provide the motivation to look for answers and in the process, beliefs and possibilities are entertained.  Once one believes something is in fact possible, more questions are generated as one starts to consider what they want to converse about.  As a picture begins to emerge, purposeful action can be started to make it happen.  The trainer must now find the way to share this picture with his dog.
The trainer will now need to employ certain mental attributes which, when combined with the training exercises, will lead to much greater results.  Those attributes will include, Attitudes, Focus, Energy, Priority setting and Outcome evaluation.

Attitude - The best attitude to maintain is a positive mental attitude.  A firm belief that is shared with the dog and which conveys, “We can do this,” will carry you through the times when misunderstandings may temporarily cloud the picture.  The ability to notice and appreciate each small gain will contribute to the completion of the overall picture.  When you do feel negative (and we all do sometimes), leave your dog alone and get yourself back on track first.  A negative attitude can spoil your dogs attitude.

Focus is closely related to attitude.  Keep your eye on the goal and don’t allow minor distractions to derail you.  As an example, suppose you are training your dog how to meet and greet people.  You set up a number of scenarios and arrange for friends to help you.  In the process of meeting one of your friends you havn’t seen for awhile, you get caught up in a conversation with him and loose track of what your dog is doing.  You’d be better off to keep your eye on the dog, say a brief hello to your friend and arrange to meet later for that long overdue chat.  You want your dog to learn how to deal with distractions - show him.  Each goal that was focused on and achieved becomes its’ own reward.

Enthusiastic, focused energy yields positive results.  When you and your dog combine your energies in pursuit of a common goal, it will have a synergistic effect.  Often far more can be accomplished than was ever imagined and this will help re-energize the both of you.  This will happen because the interplay between you becomes enjoyable and rewarding causing you both to look forward to further activity and the energy seems contagious.

Once you know what you want, you need to decide where to begin.  The expression is to plan your work and then work your plan.  Set priorities starting with anything urgent.  Work on one goal at a time.  Work with focus and attention.  Your reward will be a predictable and satisfying result.

The results you are achieving together must be constantly evaluated to assess the direction you are going together.  If the conversation has stopped, if either (or both) of you are getting distracted, take a look at where you might have gotten sidetracked and reset your goals.  Self evaluation allows you to acknowledge your gains as well as ensuring you are still on track.

As you and your dog converse, you will teach your dog many new things, in the process you WILL also learn a lot about yourself.

Thanks so much to fellow dog trainer Roger Hild of  Tsuro Dog Training for this insightful article.  Read more of Roger's work on his website,, http://www.tsurodogtraining.com/



Share Link: Google Yahoo MyWeb Del.icio.us Digg Facebook Myspace Reddit Ma.gnolia Technorati Stumble Upon myAOL MSN Live
Comments (0)
Write comment
Your Contact Details:
[b] [i] [u] [url] [quote] [code] [img]   
Please input the anti-spam code that you can read in the image.


Melanie's Product Recommendations:

Knowing Dogs Store

Subscribe by Email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner