Time and time again I get calls from people who are so intent that they "understand their dogs" and cant comprehend why they are dealing with the problems they are experiencing. I then will ask if the dog has had any training, and it never fails … "yes, we had them in petsmart / petco / clicker classes. That is all I need to know! Ok, here's the deal: Operant conditioning and training (AKA clicker / positive reward training) is a wonderful teaching tool and is a useful tool we can use when training our dogs. However, just as a carpenter doesn't come to work with just a screwdriver, we as trainers and handlers must come equipped with a "full tool box" as well.
Don't get me wrong, I think any dog can stand to benefit from any type of training, it is just that dogs with a more complex personality who see the world as if everything is there's when they want it, including food, (this is about 99% of my clients!). Dogs with this personality type are expecting a treat, so basically you are "rewarding" a dog who sees the world through these eyes for a desired physical response (ie: Sit) but in their mind, they only see that you are allowing them to snatch food from you, which by instinct, they would never due to real dog who was a leader they respected. So basically, the dog feels it is being rewarded for a dominant behavior. This is where it gets tricky … Because the act of taking a treat from our hand is innocent by nature to us as humans, plus we think we are rewarding the dog for listening to our commands, when all the dog sees is you are encouraging a behavior that would never slide in the dog world.
Now this doesn't mean treats are off limits for any dog, and some dogs even benefit from this training tool. But we must see it as a tool that compliments a deeper understanding of the nature of dogs. Especially dogs with higher training requirements.
OK, so what do we use then to get our dogs to respect us and stop the problem behaviors? Three words: Energy of Understanding What is this? Energy of Understanding is a sixth sense energy that all living things communicate by. You ever get a feeling about something? Your "gut instinct"? That is sixth sense energy. Most animals use this first and foremost when communicating with one another and with other species as well. (How else does the cat know when the dog is about to chase them before the dog even bats an eye?) So, dogs constantly receiving our signals, good bad or indifferent. They in turn, are sending us signals back. Which if read correctly, can be the most powerful training tool you can use when communicating with your dog. Unfortunately, most humans are not in touch with this energy, or at least not when it comes to projecting it towards their dogs. This is what I teach people, because techniques, tools, or methods only go so far. We must put our "leader energy" into the environment to effectively communicate with our dogs that we have things figured out better than them and they can relax, knowing that we are in charge. Once our dogs believe in our energy, the problem behaviors associated with too much responsibility goes away and our dogs are content and receptive to you, no matter what method you use.
Here's the debate. Hence the title of this article, many think that "if you aren't being positive, and treating dogs like" little humans "you are being mean to the dog". Have you ever seen dogs interact in an environment where humans aren't present? It is a 24-7 play on status. Do they bribe each other to show who's in charge? Do they play in a way or interact in a way that is anything like humans? Not even close. They operate on principles of acceptance and rejection into the pack whether dominant, submissive, or neutral. Why would it be any different when they are trying to communicate with us? Dogs have no understanding of the differentiation of species and to them, everyone speaks dog and follows the laws of the dog world. Again, I cannot stress enough that we should love our dogs, treat them humanely, and cherish them, we do not use outdated forceful methods. We create a mutually beneficial relationship based on respect and communication only because of one simple fact: Dogs just don't see things the way our human psychology wishes it would. That is just it, because dogs have been living in such close quarters with us for so long, they have become part of the human experience. This makes it difficult for us to see things the way they do because they fulfill a need within us for companionship and of course, you wouldn't act dominant towards your best friend … would you? Once we become proficient actors and create a personality within us that is for the sole purpose of communicating with our dog, and no one else, we now can put our human-ness to the side for a while and be on their level. Just as a great actor puts their off-screen persona aside while they become their role. It is difficult at first, but this ability is within all of us as energy projecting beings, so why not use it.