MODESTO — June was struggling to gain control of her young dog Farley, a beautiful Standard Schnauzer.
She cited trouble with mouthing and general rambunctiousness as reasons for a consultation.
When I met Farley, he presented himself as a normal and energetic young dog. One thing that was apparent immediately, however, was that Farley never gave June eye contact ever. In fact, it was as if she didn't even exist, despite her being at the other end of the leash.
Leash walking was a train wreck, with Farley lunging ahead, and paying no mind to June's instructions.
In talking with June and getting a detailed history, two things came to light.
First, June was at odds with her husband over how Farley should be handled and trained. Her husband felt that the way to train the dog was through the application of dominant and corrective measures, which included lots of scolding and jerking the dog around by the collar during leash walking. June wasn't comfortable applying those techniques.
Second, June had no real value in Farley's mind. His food bowl always had kibble for him to graze on, he had access to a box full of toys to entertain himself, and he even spent time running on a treadmill for exercise. And compared to her husband, she was not an effective punisher.
The application of heavy corrections had resulted in a "punishment callous," meaning that corrections were so standard for Farley that he became conditioned to them, and they ceased being effective. June could not deliver the strong punitive corrections that her husband could, so her corrections had no effect on Farley. Such is the ugly side of corrective training the more you apply corrections, the harder they must become over time, as the dog becomes insensitive to them.
Rewarding good behaviors
June and I came up with a training plan that did not, much to June's relief, rely on punishing the dog, but rather focused on Farley's efforts to offer behavior that we found acceptable. We also devised a strategy to make Farley see June as an important member of his world by changing the feeding and toy routine.
Instead of keeping Farley's food bowl full of kibble, we placed him on a twice daily feeding schedule. When June filled his bowl, before placing it on the floor, she calmly cued Farley to sit.
The first few times she did this, Farley just barked, or jumped toward the counter to get at the food bowl. June's response was not to punish; instead, she just walked away, and Farley was denied his food. She returned a few minutes later and tried again, with the same results. After numerous attempts, with Farley not responding to her cue to sit, she simply stopped, and that meal was skipped. Same with the evening meal. By the next day, Farley was pretty hungry, and June was in a new position of quiet power the Controller of Food. She went through her same routine and, holy smokes, Farley sat immediately when asked to do so.
I also had June pick up all of Farley's toys and place them out of reach. The only time Farley was given access to a toy was when he and June were practicing something: Sit when cued, play with a toy; walk a few steps while maintaining slack in the leash, stop and play a little tug. Since Farley loved to play with toys, June felt the need to interact with him frequently, and working with her was now his only avenue to toy play.
Fast forward a few weeks and June is happy to report that she sees improvement every day. Her relationship with Farley is one of mutual respect and understanding. Farley now gives her lots of eye contact, an indication that she is relevant in his world. And June has a dog that willingly complies with the cues she has taught him, not because he has too, as June will not use punishment to make the dog do anything, but because it is in his best interest to do so, as rewards are offered when he does comply. Learning new behavior is also going well, with Farley an eager and willing participant, since the training process is fun, without correction and includes rewards.
This is just one example of the power of positive training. You can choose to not apply corporal punishment and yet still teach your dog manners and maintain control. A big difference between the two training styles is that one subscribes to the idea that the dog must do a task or face punishment, while the other sets up the dog up to want to do a task, or be denied a reward. Both can be effective, but one training style is about dominance and force, and the other is about cooperation and respect. Which relationship would you rather have with your dog?
Lisa Moore's pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Weekly Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.