The most important part of that equation is watching a dog who is finding as much pleasure in responding as the owner has in succeeding. It is still a bit of a mystery to me how to get the dog and owner to feel good at the same time, for it is in that moment that a cooperative relationship becomes possible.
I suppose if one is a “whisperer,” it could come naturally. This person is born understanding animals and responds without thinking about the mechanics of communication. However, I suspect most of us have to work at achieving this with our own dogs.
As I work with people and their dogs, there are a few concepts that stand out as being pivotal in developing a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship. I’ll share these in the next few columns.
The first is to start thinking about training in terms of creating desirable behaviors in your dog, not about the more global concept of training the dog.
This might sound like a nuanced distinction, but it is huge in terms of being able to find success in dog training. If you know what behavior you want, then you are able to tell the dog with timely feedback whether it is right or wrong.
When a dog gets timely and accurate feedback, it will learn. Dog training is about rewarding and correcting behaviors, not about rewarding and correcting the dog.
To start thinking in behavioral terms, begin by visualizing what you want. Remember when your English teacher never let you use a word in its definition? If you want a dog to come, visualize what the behavior looks like, without using the English word “come.”
For example, if you want your dog to turn its head toward you when you call it, you can watch for that moment and reward the behavior immediately. Rewards increase the likelihood of behaviors being repeated.
Here’s another example of a behavior in greeting people. If you visualize the solution of your dog keeping its feet on the ground, then you can be vigilant in rewarding that behavior with attention the moment you see it. Additionally, you can refrain from rewarding what you don’t want, such as the dog leaping on you.
If you just think the problem, “I don’t want my dog to jump up,” then the dog will be clueless about the solution. And you will have no behavior visualized and thus ready to reward.
If you and your dog have the same picture in your minds, then a cooperative relationship is guaranteed.
Like any good human parent, when you think about behavior, you will be able to anticipate your dog’s intent, enabling you to coax and reward desirable actions and redirect what you don’t want. With good and heartfelt rewards, your dog will show you its pleasure with cooperation and engagement.
Knowing the behaviors you expect from your dog and communicating this clearly and consistently will make you a “whisperer” in your dog’s mind.
n Augusta Farley raises, trains and competes with Belgian Malinois dogs and runs Best Friends Pet Resort & Canine Academy in Patterson. She also hosts a Patterson-based nonprofit dog shelter, Westside Animals for Adoption, on her property.