Archive for July, 2010

I’m amazed to find how pervasive talk of being the alpha in your family and teaching your dog who’s the boss has become. My husband says that’s because I’m a freak and I just don’t understand how weird I am compared to the rest of the culture. Fair enough!

But my reading tells me that science has moved beyond understanding dog misbehavior in terms of it asserting dominance. And yet this seems to be the prevailing idea among many dog people.

I don’t like to pick fights. And I like to find common points of understanding with people I don’t agree with. And I want to see positive things everywhere. So here’s my list of “good things” about using dominance theory when training your dog.

  • Walking through a doorway first or eating before you feed your dog won’t hurt him a bit. But it does make you more conscious of where he is at any given moment. And that’s never a bad thing.
  • The most famous celebrity dominance trainer, Cesar Millan, emphasizes long daily walks. He’s right. Nearly every dog is not getting as much exercise as she needs (and neither is her person).
  • It’s always a good thing to train your dog.
  • At least dominance trainers are trying to see the world through a dog’s eyes (although it’s based on debunked assumptions). To old school trainers, there was no point in understanding a dog’s viewpoint. You just made them obey.
  • People are looking at dominance theory because they want to understand their dogs more and have a better relationship with them. Maybe openness to learning new things will lead them to more positive and effective training methods.

I’ll post again soon on some of the wonderful resources for people who want to move beyond being the “alpha of their pack .”

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Golden Retriever Puppy in a Life Jacket looking at the Lake

You want me to go where? In what?

Finally, a good opportunity to see if Honey would join me in the kayak. I took both of my last two dogs kayaking. But neither of them could be called enthusiastic kayakers. I hoped Honey might be different–Honey the water dog.

I started thinking about how a trainer would go through the steps in getting Honey into the kayak. Click and treat for sniffing the life jacket. Click and treat for wearing the life jacket. Click and treat for sniffing the kayak. Click and treat for putting two paws on the edge of the kayak and so on, and so on (and that’s just the major steps, not all the incremental shifts along the way).

In the end, I think bonding won out over training.

Golden Retriever Puppy in a Life Jacket Walking Away from the Lake

No thanks, I'd rather take the bus.

What do I mean? Well, anyone could teach Honey the steps to get into the kayak. It would be like breaking beginning agility down. And it would take quite a while for her to learn it. Although I started with the steps, in the end, Honey got into the boat because she wanted to be with me more than she wanted to be away from the strange situation.

This is something I’ve been thinking about lately, bonding versus training. Yes, I know that training will strengthen the bond between us. But what about people you see with great dogs who’ve probably never been formally trained?

You know who I’m talking about. That homeless man with the dog sitting quietly beside him off leash on a busy city street. Or the blind woman with a cane whose dog is obviously not a service animal but watches her with as much care and intelligence as any highly-trained lab.

Somehow I wonder if the attention that comes from a strong bond may be even more important in having a dog trustworthy in different situations than the formal training that many people seek as the answer to their “dog problems.”

I guess all this is to say that I’m happy that Honey trusted me enough to try something new.

How did it turn out? Well, Honey was very calm the entire time in the kayak–even when I went out into deep water, away from the shore. She relaxed enough to rest her chin on my leg before lying down in the cockpit. Honey was definitely more focused on me than the splashing dogs and people in the water around us and even the noisy boats.

And I kept the trip short. In hope that Honey would be willing to go for another ride with me soon.

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  • She makes me stop for breaks throughout the day–bathroom breaks, play breaks, snack breaks, and petting breaks.
  • She reminds me to greet every stranger as if they’re the most wonderful person in the world.
  • She always stops to smell the Roses, and the Daisies, and the Lilies, and the Busters….
  • She demonstrates that it’s impossible to keep a house clean anyway –so why try so hard?
  • And she’s always truly present in all she does.

Thanks, Honey.

Dr. Puppy can see you now.

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