Dog’s Eye View: Don’t just do something, stand there
January 26, 2017
A horse trainer once explained to a colt starting class I was participating in that he wanted his horse not to panic when it felt trapped. He wanted to teach his horse to stand quietly rather than thrash around and get hurt. He was very good at teaching little sayings — such as the title of this column — that helped us think about what we were doing. He would frequently ride over to us and sit quietly, observing us as we tried to complete an assigned exercise with our horse while we simultaneously blathered away with the person standing next to us. He was kind, patient and persistent with us.
A person who multitasks is often held up as the ultimate achiever, and, yes, our world often expects complex behaviors from people in the workplace or home. I hold parents in high esteem when I think of how they manage all that is on their plate every day. Yet, there are times when it's a good idea to allow ones self the luxury of focusing on a single task. Learning or teaching a new skill is one of those times.
We live in such a social world. We don't want to be rude. We want to acknowledge the person standing near us or helping us. In our dog training classes, it takes some doing to quietly convince the dog owner that it's OK to not look at us, but rather to focus on the dog.
Class instructors are charged with teaching an owners/students to quiet their minds and focus their attention on the nuances of behavior their dog is offering amid the bustle of a group class. This is no easy task, but it's the only way there can be clear communication between dog and human.
To be effective in teaching a new skill to our dog, we must basically shut out the surrounding environment and pay attention to the dog's response to our hand signal. We need to watch and wait, then be ready to immediately respond with a treat and a simple word or two of encouragement, paired with reinforcement and reward.
We don't even use spoken words, at first. We know what our words mean, but that's not a dog's language. Dogs are more visual and respond better to hand signals. When the dog has responded to a hand signal five to eight times, we can add the spoken word simultaneously with the gesture.
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I get to witness an "ah hah" moment when a student experiences the flow of his or her focused communication with a dog, and the dog responds with understanding. Nothing could be sweeter.
Don't just do something, stand there (and stay focused).
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with more than 30 years of experience.