Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Relationship Is Important

Well duh, right?

Get this: relationship is so important that EVERY speaker I went to at the three day APDT conference made some reference to it. Pia Silvani, CPDT-KA, who taught the Feisty Fidos workshop, even refuses to admit reactive dogs who have been in their home for less than two months into her reactive dog classes.  Relationship is that important.

But what did they mean by relationship? After all, people who beat their dog still have a "relationship" with the animal - it's just not a good one. On the other side of the spectrum, I'm met a lot of dogs who clearly loved their owners, but just as clearly didn't listen to or respect them. I sat down and I thought about it, and I decided that what these wise and brilliant trainers meant by "relationship" was actually "trust." It is possible to train a dog without him or her trusting you. Heck, that's a lot of what being a dog trainer is. But ask that dog to walk into a situation he or she feels is scary and dangerous? That takes trust. And trust takes time.

Think of your dog's trust like a bank account (thanks, Vera, for the analogy!). Every positive event that happens to your dogs around you - every treat you give, every snuggle on the couch, every time you throw the ball - that's making a deposit into your trust account. Every time you do something your dog doesn't like - each correction, each time you trim nails or give a bath - that's a withdrawal from your trust account. Like with any bank account, the goal is to have a high balance.

I'm not saying that you can never let anything bad happen to your dog in your presence. Nails need to be trimmed and shots need to be given. There's no such thing as a withdrawal-free life, for people or for dogs. However, if your trust account has a high balance, then it can handle the occasional withdrawal. Here's a real life example: Maus and I work hard together, and he trusts me a great deal (ie, I have a high balance). On the other hand, Maus hates the vet. The people there have negative fifty points as far as Maus is concerned. I have all my dogs' blood drawn once a year - definitely a withdrawal from the trust account. I know that if someone tries to forcibly restrain Maus for his blood draw, there's a good chance that person will get bitten. So I restrain him myself. Because Maus trusts me, he lets me do it. I've never trained him to allow me to hold him like that. Although come to think of it, I probably should have.

Maus lets me restrain him for blood draws for the same reason he believes me when I say a stranger isn't going to hurt him - he trusts me. This kind of trust takes a long time to build. Rubi and I aren't there yet. Maus and I still occasionally disagree about people. But the Maus of three years ago was very different from the Maus of today.

In contrast, I am not implying that you should shower your dog with attention and treats when ever you're together. You're dog will love you for it, I'm sure. I'm also sure your dog will get spoiled. One way to increase your dog's trust in you is with consistent, positive training. What your dog learns then is that good things happen when he or she does what you say. Remember when I was talking about NILIF way back in the day? That's a great way to help establish trust. So is training with positive reinforcement. I've taught B a fair number of tricks. She doesn't need to know how to roll over or shake or beg, but it's another way for me to show her that when she listens to me, good things will happen. It's fun.

At the same time, it's important not to confuse trust with hunger. There's more to teaching trust than just passing out treats. One of the reasons it takes so long to build trust is that you need to get to know someone in order to trust them. Think of someone you trust. How did you come to trust them? Did it come instantly? More likely, you spent time together. You learned the person's likes and dislikes. You came to know what they would do in a given situation. You did activities you both enjoy. It's the same with dogs. You can't establish trust if you keep your dog chained out in the backyard and never do anything with him or her. Personally, I'm a big believer in play therapy. What better way to get to know someone than have fun with them?

Dogs are ever honest creatures - creatures of action. Tell a dog, "trust me," and you'll likely be met with a blank stare (and a wagging tail; dogs are funny like that). In contrast, dogs pay a great deal of attention to our actions. Act consistently and positively, and over time, your dog will trust you to act that way all the time - even if he or she doesn't trust the situation.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE this post! I completely agree! There is so much debate over training methods and this is always the point I come back to. I think that the method used is far less important than the relationship you have with your dog, and if you're focused on the impact of your training on that relationship--you WILL choose the right method!