The "Dirty Water" Analogy for handler-Dog training issues

Friday, July 25, 2008

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Have you ever heard anyone say the following: “I don't get it. I went to training school and my dog won’t listen while we’re out on the streets”? Have you ever seen that quiet dog who doesn't bother anyone all of a sudden have the owner chasing it down the street? Or maybe the dog is chasing the neighbor’s cat and the owner can't catch it? If someone videotaped it, I believe it would win big money on America's Funniest Home Video's.

I have a category when it comes to this type of behavior or progression. I call it “Dirty Water.” I use this type of title when it comes to handler-dog conflict. In dog management today (notice I don't use the word training), there seems to be a belief that obedience training is the be all and end all to dog behavior problems. On the other hand, it can be the beginning of creating more problems in your relationship. It all depends on how much Dirty Water is allowed to develop in your dog’s mind.

In management there are two types of training. Indirect Training (aka “Dirty Water”) is when a dog learns certain undesired behaviors in your presence as part of his daily activity. Direct Training (aka “Clean Water”) is the behavior you try to achieve like sit, stay, down and heel or “don't chase the cat,” these are good examples. The problem with the dog is he doesn't know the difference between the two issues and believes that both are acceptable.

Look at the photo above that heads this blog. I will often ask my students, “if we had to drink that glass of Dirty Water, how much Clean Water would we need to add to it to make it drinkable?” Of course the answer is gallons! More water means more work, of course. However, if you had a glass of clean water but add 1 cup of Dirty Water, it will take you gallons more of clean water to clear it up and make it drinkable. These glasses are conflicted.

The clean glass is your dog’s mind before you get it, regardless of behavior. Metaphorically speaking, the glass is empty, all you have to do is put clean water in (or Direct Training, avoiding Indirect Training) and the process comes at a decent pace making the work and modification straight forward.

Dirty Water

The glass in the photo has loads of Dirty Water in it (Indirect Training), and this glass requires more work to clean up the water. Of course, in order to do this, you will need more clean water (Direct Training.) If I look at this from a dog’s perspective, you can put Direct Training into the dog as long as you don't allow any more bad habits to develop in the process. Basically, using a crate properly will help diminish you dog’s bad habits. Understanding how one not-so-bad habit (like petting your dog when it jumps on you) links to other more disastrous habits (jumping up on your 85-yr-old  diabetic Grandmother when she comes to visit.)

Finally, the empty glass. This is the average house-pet relationship glass. It starts off empty which means the dog doesn't know how to act with you, a great window. Then we let some Indirect Training take place (Dirty Water) and low and behold we need more clean water (Direct Training) to achieve the results we want. However, after our scheduled training is done, the dog is back to being free to develop bad habits again. This is the most detrimental issue of your relationship. As a matter of fact, the glass is now a cesspool not knowing when to be clean or dirty and jumping back and forth. Eventually both Clean and Dirty Water are fighting for space in the same glass. Sorry, but Dirty Water always wins. Remember, dogs are predators and therefore survivors; they will manipulate your weakest point. If you can get my drift, dog and handler anxiety, frustration and resentment come into play - a nasty spin that is very difficult to break. I guess we should have kept the water clean in the first place.

I have some points for us to look at so we can prevent Dirty Water from mixing and fighting with the clean:

1) Crate your dog in the early stages unless you are training; only putting clean water in. When the behavior is ingrained, the dog will only act that way, thus precipitating more freedom. Of course, you have to actually go out and train your dog on a schedule, and after you’re done training, put it back in the crate to think and to prevent it from gaining more dirty water (i.e. allowing the dog to get on the couch after a training session. That makes you look like you’re apologizing!)

2) Don't greet your dog at the door when it is eager. This only breeds excitement when a guest comes over. Your dog doesn't know the difference between you and Aunt Martha in her best attire.

3) Don't allow your dog to play tag with your children. Instead, when the children run, call your dog back. After all, your dog doesn't know the difference between a child that’s running scared in the park and we all know what that could mean.

4) Teach your dog to wait before going from family member to family member and give it permission to go. This way it won’t run at your neighbor who is carrying his groceries with a pot roast in the bag. As cruel as the following might sound, it’s a fact: you can’t expect someone to love your dog as much as you do.

5) Do not leave your dog in the backyard patrolling the fence line or running the fence with the neighbor’s dog. This promotes dominance and dog chasing issues on the street as well as territorial issues. Treat your yard as if one day the fence might be removed. That would change things dramatically.

6) Don't allow your dog to chase squirrels or ducks in the pond, after all they have every right to be there as well. This will only lead to your dog chasing a squirrel or a cat across the street and bingo, you neighbor is driving down the prepared to pay for your vet’s Porche. Instead teach your dog to recall using these creatures as distractions and respecting their space as well. In any case, your dog should play with you, not the wildlife. This makes you worth looking at in your dog’s eyes.

7) When talking with someone, keep your dog close to you in a sit, non-interruptive. Don't allow anyone to touch your dog at a whim like your best friend who gets Fido excited. Next time he could get excited with the neighbor who doesn't love him as much as you do and you will correct him. This will only breed stimuli aggression.

8) Never poke and/or flip your dog on his back, aka the "Alpha Roll." This is something I have seen on a TV show airing on the National Geographic Channel. That never ends with a happy finish, and its a good way to teach your dog to defend himself against you. Next time you see someone do this, look closely at the dog’s face. Is it saying, “yeah, well you have to sleep sometime...”

9) Don't just go to the dog park and let Fido run free. Understand that he may be bullying or having too good of a time and you could become the fun police. Instead teach him to recall while playing. You never know when he may decide to run up to Henry the Husky who owns the street. Henry could mount him and you are standing there letting it happen. Think how you would feel. If you stick around long enough, you can ALWAYS see a fight happen. Why would you allow your dog to experience that? The Dirty Water at this point becomes sludge!

10) Work on yourself and stay calm and patient so your dogs remains the same. To borrow a phrase from Monty Roberts, “if you go about it as if you only have 15 minutes, many times it takes you all day. If you go about it like you have all day, often times it only takes 15 minutes!”

Know the difference between Dirty and Clean water. A mother dog knows exactly what that means ("The Whelping Box Theory.”) Your training will become easier, more productive and enjoyable for you and your dog. Keep the conflict of Dirty vs. Clean out of the equation and you’ll move mountains.

If freedom is given with the expectation of reasoning, then one will become unreasonable with the argument of freedom.

- Sam

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