Monday, June 11, 2012

Jai Goes Back to School

Jai and I may not have done much work with his reactivity since our first attempt at class, but we've still come a long way from where we were. We've worked hard on relationship building and impulse control, and Jai is a subtly different dog than he was two months ago. More confident certainly - a little more attentive, too. He's not the only one who's done some learning; I'm picking up on body cues that I hadn't noticed before. For example, Jai does, in fact, wag his tail almost constantly. Just not when he's even a little bit uncertain, which was apparently most of the first three months he spent here. On the other hand, he does typically carry his ears a little further back than most pit bulls, and pins them back harder when he's nervous. Or there's a camera pointed at him (same difference).

"Cameras eat pit bulls. Must not look, mustnotlook . . . "

Ears full forward - something that comes very natural to Rubi - is a bad sign for Jai. It means that he's running close to over stimulated. Canine body language never ceases to fascinate me. All dogs speak the same language, with different breeds having their own dialects, and individual dogs having their own signals and phrases that they use more than others. I could spend all day just watching dogs talk to each other.

Anywho, Jai had his first day of special needs class this week, and I couldn't be more pleased about the decision to place him in a less overwhelming class. He was still zombie-watching in the beginning with a little whining just for flavor, but unlike our first class, his anxious behavior decreased the longer we stayed. Instead of spending the whole time just trying to keep our brains in our heads, Jai was actually able to think and learn.

At one point during the hour, Jai and I got to walk around the room and play decoy dog. Jai was actually more concerned about the object in the room than the other dogs (in particular, there was a mop bucket that needed a good sniffing to before we could move on). This was rather validating for me because it means that I was probably right and it wasn't just the other dogs in the previous class that were too much - it was being in a new place as well. On the other hand, it also means that Jai probably isn't as well socialized as I had initially thought.

Jai at class with four other dogs in view. Note the hip bump and the blur tail.
Disregard the "cameras will steal your soul" ears.

I chose the place where we're taking classes, a local chain training company, based on the fact that I'm tired of driving all the way across the cities for classes. In exchange for less gas money, we're taking classes at a place I knew did not entirely mesh with my training philosophy. After so many reactive dogs, I'm comfortable advocating for Jai if the teacher wants us to do something I'm not comfortable with. Mostly what we need is a quite corner where we can do our own thing in the presence of other dogs.

The school's training philosophy is not nearly as bad as I prepared for. It's not uber-traditional, jerk and praise training. But it's not purely positive reinforcement based way I am, either. I'd say the cookie/correction ratio is about 50/50. I certainly wouldn't hesitate to label this force based training. If the dog doesn't do what you want - make them do it!

Watching the other students, I'd forgotten how refreshingly simple force-based training is! Your dog won't sit? Make them sit! Your dog won't stay? Make them stay! There's very little, if any, consideration given to how the dog it thinking or feeling or if the cookies aren't good enough or any other of dozens of factors that come into play when dogs try to learn. See problem = fix problem!

And yet, I do not regret the training path I have chosen. My dogs are not my minions to be forced to bend to my will. They are thinking, breathing individuals, and just because they can't speak English or spend money doesn't mean they are not deserving of respect. Not being human does not make them less. I can't do advanced calculus, but that doesn't give anyone the right to bully me into obedience.

I find that I sleep better at night believing that my dogs have free will, and I do not have - nor want - absolute control over them. My dog does not sit the first time I ask him? Big deal, that's his choice. I'll just have to make "sit" more appealing next time. I like that my dogs are my teammates and my friends. They play the game because they want to, not because they're forced to. It makes us happier all the way around.

L > R: Jai, Rubi, and Maus, my reactive  - but happy! - pit bulls. 

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