Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How does your bond with your dog rate?

I am currently reading a new (to me) book, called "Bonding With Your Dog: A Trainer's Secrets for Building a Better Relationship", by Victoria Schade.  In this book, it starts by telling you to take a sort of "quiz" to assess you and your dog's overall relationship.  Not just the training you've put in (although the two are very much intertwined, it's hard to separate one from the other), but your dog's natural inclination to check in with you, how you relate to each other, and how you feel about your dog. 

One would argue that it's possible to train your dog just about anything, but at the end of the day it is the bond between you and your dog that most people have -real- problems with. Many "training" problems can often fall into the category of "bonding problems".  After all, if you don't have a bond with your dog - if you live two separate lives, and are just two separate beings at opposite ends of the same leash, then how can you really expect training to really take off?

I thought it would be fun to take the test with my own dogs, and see where the answers lie, in terms of this quiz.  I'll go through the questions and then provide my answers for each question.

1.Does your dog check in with you during walks?

My quick answer to this is "Yes".  Zipper, Shimmer, and Kash are amazing at doing self check-ins during walks, off leash and on-leash. If I stop walking, they will also stop, to see what I am going to do next. If I change direction when they are off-leash, as soon as they notice they will run to catch up, without being prompted (at least most of the time, I would say 85%).

Gaci has, honestly, struggled with this behaviour, although we do work hard on it.  She has, by far, the highest prey drive of my four, so for her "walks" generally translate to "hunting", and when she is following a scent sometimes she will admittedly forget to check in with me on her own, although she is decent at responding once I call her. She also has been dealing with anxieties for a lot of her lifetime, as well as impulse control problems,  so on walks she has a tendency to remain more vigilant, scanning the environment and looking out for #1.  That has lessened dramatically, for certain, and most walks are completely uneventful, but she would be the one who would be most apt to end up checking in less often naturally. It's something we've worked hard at, and we continue to work together on, but for the most part I would have to say I am happy with her current level of focus.

2. Are you afraid that if your dog slipped out the front door unleashed, she'd take off running and not come home?
Honestly, no. Never with these four.  I would like to say I've worked hard to "train" my dogs to re-orient to me when they go out the door, but honestly I barely work on it at all. It is something that they just do.  We have worked on door manners so they don't run out in the first place, though, but once released through the door each of my dogs will run through the door, stop, and look at me, with a "What's next pardner?" kind of expression.  This is actually something I admit to being quite proud of, considering terriers are not always the most dependent creatures, but I never fear for leaving the door open or losing a dog off-leash out my door.  We do almost everything off-leash at home, which generally contributes to a large part of that behaviour I'm sure. My dogs also know that I am the source of all-things-fun-and-exciting, so they tend to wait to see what I have in store before dashing off in any particular direction (whether it is to the woods/fields, the van, or the agility area).

So, byproduct of other training? Or simply a strong bond? I would like to think it's a bit of both.

3. Do you think that your dog is "too stubborn" or "too dumb" to learn basic obedience behaviours?

Nope. That has never registered on my radar.  I have always said that those labels indicate a problem with the trainer, not with the dog. All dogs like to learn -something-, and all dogs CAN learn new skills. My guys take part in Rally-O, Agility, Trick Training, and lots of off-leash things that require they respond to my signals.  I believe the opposite - my dogs are extremely intelligent, and love to work.

4.  Does your dog seek you out in new environments (for example, at a crowded dog park?)
While I choose not to use dog parks as my dog's source of exercise, my dogs are constantly going to new environments, whether it be a new beach, a new provincial park trail, an agility venue, or just camping in the summer. They are well-travelled, so I don't really notice that there is any change. Kash, being the youngest and extremely social (ie. nosy), would be the most likely to investigate a new environment, but I would be comfortable in saying that he would come back to find me within a short time.  He is still building his "working focus" around distractions, for competition, it's not 100% there by any means, but I don't worry that he would just run off and forget I exist, like I see happen a lot at dog parks.

5. Are you frequently frustrated with your dog?

The next line is "You are reading this book, so it's a safe assumption that your relationship with your dog is frustrating you".  To the contrary, I saw it online and thought it was a great next read for continuing education as a way to help my clients, and I'm sure many people read it who don't feel frustrated with their dog all of the time.  But in keeping with the point......

Honestly, I am quite patient with my dogs, for most things. Life with my dogs on a daily basis is quite easy, most of the time. Sure, sometimes Kash gets "interested" in Gaci, and will spend a day here and there certain that she's meant for him, driving her batty, and as a result driving me a bit batty while I remind him to leave her alone and redirect him to other tasks, but for the most part my dogs don't do a lot of irritating things.  They don't steal food or garbage (sweaters thrown on couches with treats left behind are fair game, however), I can leave things on the table and leave the room and know it'll be there when I get back.  They aren't over-the-top barkers (although Gaci has been dealing with barking at Kyle when he returns home,  a conflicted happy-but-anxious behaviour we have been working on for a bit now, although it doesn't irritate me at all, to be honest. Him, maybe a little bit?).  Life's pretty care-free, stress-free, and straightforward.

I think part of my lack of frustration is due to my stance as a trainer, though.  I suppose it's not that I don't get frustrated - we all do at some point or another - it's a normal part of living with any social species, whether it be a dog or another human, but I think I say no to this because if I -do- get frustrated, I know how to deal with it effectively and quickly, and can acknowledge that building frustration means that I need to deal with some situation to reduce the frustration. So it never lasts, and it never becomes a chronic issue. I don't let problems get to the point where they are frustrating, if I see a problem I deal with that problem.

I do see this problem happening with a lot of my clients, though, simply because they don't understand the motivation behind the behaviour, or they don't understand what their dog is saying. Once they do, they find it easier to develop a solution (which, of course, is what I'm there to do for them!).  And that solution will depend very much on the circumstance - sometimes it's a family with an otherwise great relationsihp and it's simply a training issue, but often it is a symptom of a deeper problem in the overall relationship between the dog and the family, and that needs to be addressed before the problem can be trained away.

So, whether you decide to do it publicly or not, I do challenge you to answer these questions for yourself.  And if you have the means, feel free to share your answer publicly, as you may surprise yourself at the results! 

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