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Positive Thoughts

I've had such a bad couple of days (not because of Diesel or training - otherwise) plus I'm getting a flu so I thought I'd write something positive to cheer myself up.

Since we go to the dog park every day, I have been observing people there a lot. Of course, it's so much easier to observe others than oneself.There are numerous situations I'd like to open my mouth and say something. Lot of the "problems" that arise in the park are, in my opinion, due to simply misunderstanding dog behaviour. It's funny how darn clear it is now that my own eyes have opened. It's actually so clear it's amazing - how on earth is it so common! I also recognize it so well, I used to do the same myself. Getting angry when the dog doesn't come after calling, leash correcting, interpreting dog behaviour as being mean or revenging etc.

If you only think how much better the relationship between owners and dogs would be if these some basic mistakes were corrected. No matter what your training methods were, no matter if you weren't interested in training at all, if only the common misunderstandings were corrected, lot of dogs and people would live a happier life.Wouldn't it be great if the first book new dog owners read was Culture Clash! No obedience training, no clicker training necessary, just simply understanding what dogs are about.I also strongly think that many of the reactions and human behaviour I see everyday (leash jerking, yelling, misinterpretation of growling etc.) are caused by the dominance thinking. What dominance thinking always seems to suggest is that YOU HAVE TO SHOW WHO'S THE BOSS, which makes people easily act agitated, rigorous and angry. Of course, the theory also suggests that you need to suppress dominance and that's done with punishment and harsh methods (which is kind of funny too, how many people would consider that kind of a boss a good one? ;).

I seldom say anything at the dog park, I don't want to preach nor sound fanatic or even arrogant. Also, these people have no reason to believe me, why should they? I'd probably say many things opposite to what they have heard a trainer say or read from a book. I also have this crazy Lab puppy, I don't even ask my puppy to DO anything in the park, I often walk to her and leash her instead of calling.There are some people I know from years back, when I used to go to this park with my two Labs and this gives me some credibility in their eyes (of course, the fact that I've had dogs before doesn't necessarily mean a thing). There are a few people I talk more with and try give some thoughts of how dogs may react to different situations but generally, I don't interfere to how people are trying to cope with their dogs. When and if I get a chance I rather quietly SHOW what my way is.

But here comes the funny part.. Obviously this has had some effect. In the beginning, when we started going to the park with Diesel I made it very clear to myself I won't ask too much from Diesel there. Well, practically that meant I won't ask anything :). The hardest part was NOT to call her when we were leaving, when she was engaged in playing, instead I walked over to her, started chucking food and leashed her. I was probably red in the face when doing this and I felt people staring at me, pitying me behind my back: "Oh.. she's never going to get that puppy to come if she goes after her. Oh.. now she's bribing her!". I was extremely prejudiced towards other people's reactions to clicker training and what I was doing. However, the first surprise was, people actually weren't negative at all, in fact, I don't think they thought much at all of it.

In many ways I'm a perfectionist and I think I've seen Diesel's behaviour much "worse" than it has been. When I say worse, I don't mean it negatively, I mean "less obedient" perhaps. However, maybe we have had some sort of an impact to people there in the park. All of a sudden, some of these people have started carrying treats with them! And I can tell you they haven't before. I've seen five people appearing there with treats last week. (Of course, they have these huge, boring commercial dog cookies :).All of sudden, these people are actually praising their dogs if it comes when called. I always make such a big deal of praising Diesel. A LOT and LOUD.. *lol*.Funniest thing happened yesterday. There was a young (under 2 years) Wheaten playing with Diesel and another Lab. The owner of the Wheaten was in a hurry but since Diesel and this Wheaten "are such good friends" she decided to come. After some time she started leaving but then Diesel and this Wheaten started their wild and rough play. The girl sighed "Aaaww... I'm never going to get her leashed now". She waited for awhile and then she turned to me and said "Could you please call Diesel so that when she comes I'd be able to leash Vilja too." You know, this made me soooooooo proud and I was very flattered. I called Diesel, she came running full speed and got her super extra first-rate jackpot and the Wheaten got leashed.

I know I've said it before, but I have to say it again, I'm really stunned by Diesel's recall. It's amazing. Even though I know many things can still happen and she's very young and we still have to work on that etc. I want and need to cherish this now. I never thought *I* could have a dog that responds that way when I call her and every time.It's also very clear why and what's the difference to my previous dogs (who also had nice and decent recalls - not extremely reliable though :). Coming to me has never left without reinforcement. Coming to me has never ended badly. Coming to me has ended with leashing but with LOADS of treats and when Diesel has already been exhausted and is actually happy to be taken away from the play. More than that, her interaction with me has been 90% positive and when it has been negative, it wasn't because I punished or yelled or mistreated her. Those bad times have often been "unconscious" or due to circumstances (like something dangerous in mouth - I open her mouth. Diesel decides to sit in the middle of a busy road - I grab her by the harness etc.).

My road to treating my dog like this hasn't been all that simple. I have so many adopted modes of actions that are making it difficult. I have sort of grown into certain ways of thinking and behaving.Now here is a very important point in my opinion. Understanding dog behaviour is essential if wanting to improve the relationship (and training) but so is *understanding human behaviour*. People need to be aware how they behave before they can change the way they behave. People need to know why they behave the way they do in order to change it.

When I started clicker training with Diesel I was constantly bashing myself if I did something wrong. I was angry at myself, I told myself what an idiot I was and huffily told myself never to do that again. I really gave myself a hard time.Well, that has changed over this summer. These days, when I do something wrong it often makes me feel bad but instead of scolding myself, I start thinking what caused the situation. Could I have done something differently? Could I have avoided the situation altogether? If not, why did I do what I do? Would it be possible to behave differently? And - what surprises me, I do it calmly, assuring myself I will do better the next time.There's been a tremendous change in my behaviour and way of thinking due to clicker training (and it doesn't mean I was some kind of mean, vicious dog abuser before!).

Funny thing.. To me, clicker training hasn't turned out to be the best method to train my dog, it has become a way of life to me.

Hmmm... if I could still extend this to interacting with all sorts of people.

Laura I Kansanen
copyright 2000 Laura I Kansanen


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