In her most recent post, Kelly talked about choosing the carrot or the stick in training and as a follow-up, I hope to give you some good real life examples of each.
The dog in the video above is Gee, an approximately 4 year old pit bull mix. Gee has done quite a bit of living in his 4 years on Earth. Once he reached maturity, he was used as a breeding dog by a backyard breeder. When the breeder was done with him, he sold him to a woman who kept him in a crate for most of the time she had him, which probably brings him up to about age 2 and a half. He was then rescued from that person by my friend, Natalie, and went to live with her parents. In his current life, Gee is adored beyond measure by perhaps 2 of the kindest people I have ever met. They think Gee is pretty much the best thing ever- and you know what? They are right. Here is a dog with little to no learning history, beyond sit, who in 4 weeks has learned more than I think they ever thought possible. And, you know why? Because they are compliant, they are committed and they had no pre-conceived notions about what training would look like. The idea of using food was a beautiful thing to them and once they saw the value of having him work (which he loves to do) unwanted behaviors decreasing and desired behaviors increasing, they were all in.
The big behaviors that we are looking to change for Gee are rushing guests when they come in and jumping on them. He’s a big boy with a lot of love to give and we needed to channel that appropriately. So, we started building down-stays near (but not right at) the front door so he can see people come in. The final behavior we are looking for is that he holds the down-stay until given a release cue and is then able to do appropriate greetings, with all four feet on the ground. He’s working hard. So are his people. Gee has had a nice run of dashing to the door and jumping, but his impulse control improves every time I go back. Because they do their homework. Because they are prepared with carrots (or meatballs, in his case) and because he is motivated. He has learned that doing what is asked of him vs. following his impulses works out better for him. He’s never really had any reason to control his impulses before. And, his people didn’t have the skills to teach him. Now they do.
In working with Gee, I have done a lot of reflection on my methods. I always do, but it’s easier when I think about him, because there is no objection, no having to break through old beliefs. So, it allows me to think about how I would have handled Gee back in the day, because I am not having other arguments in my head (I wish they’d be more generous with reinforcement, why can’t they stop using the term pack leader- that sort of thing). What I have come up with is this: we’d have put him on a leash to control his movement and given him a leash correction each time he moved. Probably in conjunction with a stern verbal correction, like “NO!” No what? No jumping, no moving, no breathing? No is meaningless in dog-speak. This would have resulted in probably one of two things: a dog is motivated to stay in the down position for fear of being hurt and/or a dog who associated people coming in his house with this pain and stopped liking visitors. Or a dog who just shut down and stopped behaving altogether, which looks like the goal for some trainers and I may have unknowingly been one of them way back when. Instead, what we have is a gradual improvement in behavior and a dog who is actively tuned in and looking to his owner or me for cues. A dog who is engaged and interested. A dog who is empowered. Setting the criteria up front and building in the parameters (distraction, distance and duration) and making them do-able every step of the way achieves this and it is achievable with every dog- though it is much easier to do with a dog whose people get it and are willing to go along with the system, no doubt.
I asked a friend of mine, who I know to be a crossover trainer herself if she was willing to share pictures of her dogs after they went to “boot camp” and before she made the switch herself. Shannon is the owner of K-949: Training for Humans with Dogs and she is all sorts of awesome. You should check out her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/K949Training, not only is it informative, but it’s a lot of fun, too. Shannon very graciously agreed to share this poster she created to show the difference in her dogs just post- boot camp and a few years later, having had the gift of their person choosing the carrot, after seeing the damage done by the stick.
The difference is pretty obvious. The first images depict dogs who are stressed and maybe even shut down. The second shows dogs who are relaxed and happy. We get to choose one or the other for our dogs.
Choose the carrot. And, if you have chosen the stick in the past, remind yourself of this:
This, I know to be true.