BY TENA PARKER
Success Just Clicks
No, I’m not talking about your dog, I’m talking about you. If I could give students of any dog a handful of “words of wisdom,” this would surely be one of them: Be proactive. Don’t wait until your dog does the unwanted behavior, don’t wait until someone reaches for your dog to say “don’t pet” and don’t allow bad behavior as a puppy because it’s “cute.” Being proactive prevents problems. Yes, that’s quite the sweeping statement, but it is accurate in many (though not all) situations.
When we wait to react to behavior, that behavior will have already been repeated, practiced, and patterned in. Yes, you may have given feedback on that behavior, but it was rehearsed nonetheless. By the time we react to behavior, it is simply too late.
When I’m dealing with an annoying (though no dangerous or concerning) problematic behavior like barking or jumping, I work hard to be proactive in the training. I set the dog up in a situation to be successful so I can reward them before they offer the unwanted behavior. So when working on jumping up, during training sessions, I will control the arousal level of the situation to where the dog is excited by not quite jumping up and will be clicking and treating any instance of the dog keeping feet on the floor. As the dog is successful, I will increase the arousal level of the exercise and continue to click and treat for any four on the floor. I’m not waiting for the dog to jump up and reacting to the jump, I’m setting up situations where the dog is slightly more likely to keep their feet on the ground than jump up and I’m rewarding (rapid fire) for four feet on the ground. I will react if I fail and the dog jumps up, but my goal is always to approach the situation proactively.
If I’m out at a busy canine event with Shayne, I am not waiting for her to bark, lunge or growl before I react. I am proactively approaching the situation by keeping her thinking and working or rewarding all of her good choices that she is making with regards to the other dogs.
If I see her get into a sticky situation that she may end up going down the wrong path, I’m going to step in. If I see impending doom, even if it’s not a sure thing, I’m going to help. If I see a loose dog rushing us, I’m not going to “wait and see” what happens and then react to the brouhaha created. I’m going see the loose dog and act proactively by either getting out of the situation (if possible), yelling to (maybe at) the owner to leash their dog, or throw treats at the dog while I shove food in Shayne’s face and walk away. If I’m confident that Shayne will hold herself together, I will let her do her thing, but the first sight of potential doom and I’m stepping in to help.
When I was raising puppy Rio, I was working hard to prepare him for the future. I wanted to be proactive in my approach to set him up to be the dog that I wanted as an adult (while not missing out on his puppyhood or silly puppy antics). I didn’t want a puppy who was fearful in the world, so I worked hard to prevent that from happening by socializing him appropriately. I wanted an adult dog who would be focused on me and pay attention to me so I worked hard to create a puppy who wanted to work with me and wanted to focus on me, even in very distracting environments. If I weren’t proactive in my approach with raising the type of puppy I wanted to have as an adult, I’d likely be forced to go back and fix issues that I let develop from puppy Rio. If I had let puppy Rio build other dogs as being more valuable than working with me, that is a behavior I’d have to fix later.
What is something you are proactive with your dog about (or something that you wish you had been proactive about)?
Tena Parker M.S., has been working with dogs for over 10 years. She is the owner of Success Just Clicks Dog Training in Pittsburgh, PA, has a thriving daily dog blog online, is a member of the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), is a Certified APDT C.L.A.S.S Evaluator (and instructor), is a Certified AKC Canine Good Citizen and S.T.A.R. Puppy Evaluator, and is a Certified Mentor Trainer for Animal Behavior College. She also teaches popular dog training classes through Western Pennsylvania Humane Society’s Get Smart! Training School several days a week.