Saturday, April 04, 2009

click! good dog!

My dog Su has taught me so much over the years. Su was just a little puppy wandering along a country road when I found her. I've picked up a lot of dogs and cats, and this one was to be no exception. It did not take long though to realize she was an exception in her own right. Su came with attitude. So much attitude the vet thought it would be wisest to euthanize her. I don't know enough about dogs to say what the problem was (and to a degree still is) for certain sure but this was a puppy who wanted things her way or no way. And she had the teeth to back it up. All was fine until you made any effort to restrain her or in any other way physically direct her path. Those puppy teeth were sharp! I think she sank them to the hilt in more than one person. Looking back it is amazing when you consider the rabies issue in Texas that we got away with keeping her anyway. She was a puppy. She was cute. I could not believe it was hopeless or 'too much work'.

Today, a long/short eight years later, I look at Su lying quietly on the den floor and think about how well behaved she is in the house, how sweet she is and okay, yeah, she's still not a dog to push around but she's a good dog and I tell her so every day. It's also been a whole lotta work. Yet it was worth it not just for the results (a good dog) but for all that I learned.

Some people are good at teaching, at training, whether it is an animal or a child. Naturals we might say. Some have studied and learned how to do a good job. But some? We expect so much, want it now, make demands, complain about non-compliance, but rarely seek new 'tools' to use that would help both sides have an easier time along with a better outcome. But no one had ever threatened to bite me before so there you go - I didn't learn until I had to or else!

So this is my plug for clicker training - a gentle positive way to modify an animals behavior and shape it to get the end results you desire. Yes, if you followed those links (and my personal favorite clicker site here, Shirley Chong's) you will see this "clicker training" is a way to relate to your dog resulting from concepts that can be used with people as well. I use a form of this in schools where I substitute - it is called tag teach. It grieves me to sub a class where some young child says, "I'll never earn a sticker", because he is a 'behavior' problem and has had only negative feedback. Sit down. Be quiet. Do your work. Pull your tag/write your name/lose recess. Whatever method is used in the class. Certainly there must be consequences for some actions. Yet too often that becomes our main focus. My focus is going to be rewarding the actions I desire - even if there is only the slightest move towards doing that thing, whatever it might be. In time you gain the behavior you want, whether from a dog, a lion, or a child.

There's not room here to tell all of Su's story, the issues we had and how I handled them (and we still train!). This is just to encourage you to search the 'net for these subjects and use them yourself.

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