“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
― George Bernard Shaw
All training has, or should have, a foundation built on communication. Every method of dog-training claims to be based on communication between dog and trainer. Every Trainer claims to be in communication with the dog while they’re training together. It’s a universal hubris that we share. “It’s as though my dog knows what I’m thinking before I give him the command.” we find ourselves saying. I’ve begun calling that hubris, for simplicity sake, a delusion. That delusion is costing our dogs dearly in emotional fulfillment.
Strangely enough, I’ve learned much of this truth from an individual that lays no claim to ever having been a “trainer of dogs”. In fact, most of her dogs have never had “formal” training at all. They’ve been allowed to live as dogs will, within the confines of what their “leader” will accept as proper, and she understands that dogs are motivated by “feeling”. Everyday, on this breeders ranch property, you may find as many as seven or more intact male German Shepherds, milling about together with both human family, and visiting strangers of the human persuasion. When the brood bitches are not in heat, you may very well also encounter them on the property beside the males. From puppy to a nearly thirteen year old unfixed male German Shepherd, (A dog that has earned the right to be crabby at times), they live and thrive under the guidance of their emotional leader, a small, slightly built lady that lays no claim to being anything but a farm girl (a compliment if I ever gave one)that loves German Shepherds. (And makes AWE-INSPIRING Banana Cake. But I digress) Yet, the dogs watch her for every move, as though she looks down from Olympus itself, casting thunderbolts into the sky. When she walks the property, her dogs are at her heel. When she is in her kennel office, they swarm around her waiting for and receiving the support they seek. And none of them has ever had a day of “sit”, “down”, “stay” formal training from a “trainer” that has a certificate of achievement, boasting that they are a “Master Trainer”. In fact, among other signs in her office is one that say’s “Ranchin’s Hard Work. Y’wanta?” Which I believe says more about Mrs. Rhonda Sellers than necessary to back up my position that she is one of the finest trainers I’ve ever observed. She works hard at understanding and communicating with dogs on a level that goes way beyond the “technique” of any Training modality. She understands what her dogs “feel”, and understands them. It’s that simple.
So what does that say about those of us that have “credentials”?
We need to work on our communications skills. Not our dogs…they’re doing just fine waiting for us to catch up to them, like a rider waiting in a downpour at an open bus stop.. We need to re-define what “training” means. Are naturally performed commands sit Sit, Stay, and Down really Trained into our dogs? Or are they just methods by which a dog relieves stress? We need to accept and embrace the process of understanding that dogs “Feel”. That the concept of what “drives” a dog has been made so complicated by well-intentioned but misguided “experts”, that recovery is difficult at best. The Operant Conditioning crowd has used the misnomer “Scientific method” as a billy club to convince the gullible that a clicker can accomplish miracles. A supposition proven fatally flawed time and again, by the failure to help dogs with behavioral problems. Our problem is education, NOT lack of it. So many “Trainers”are “educated” to do things incorrectly from the point of view of the dogs. Not to put too fine of a point on this, but “Petsmart” store type “training” has done more damage to the dogs than a plague of distemper.
It’s just as big of a mistake to assume “human” tendencies in our dogs. They are, in the end, still dogs. They need and want us bi-pedals to get with the program already and respect their true “Dogness”. I define that as realizing what motivates our dogs in the real world, not the man-made world of guesses and theories, top-heavy with bias and egotism. It’s so much simpler that we will make it, with our technologies, scientific thought, and Behavioral studies that are more about humans than dogs.
This thought process has shaped and cut away the useless chaff of my training regimen. Gone are the overuse of treat morsels, gone are the toys at every success. My dogs, and a few practitioners of real canine communication have guided me down this road, and I’m determined to share it with others for the sake of the dogs. Current methods allow a permissiveness that is harming the mental strength of our dogs, especially those breeds that relied on the inner calm and heart of the trainer/handler, to perform important jobs. It’s our fault as dog people, that this communication has waned, and only when we rediscover a more natural way to listen and communicate will we understand where we have failed. In this case, failure is a beginning to a better way for our dogs. In my next post, I’m going to show you the steps I’ve taken specifically, on the journey of true Canine Communication. I call the first step, “I wish my dog could do that!”
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