Who Drives Your Bus?

Posted on 04/08/10 23 Comments

So why do I believe it is easier for me to get control of a dog when in the presence of their highest value rewards than it may be for some of you? It is because that is the only life my dogs have ever known. I create that environment the first day I get the puppy home where choices are available and reinforcement is controlled.

Most people raise their puppies allowing them to do what they want, when they want. These puppies grow into dogs that learn; when I want to go out, I use the dog door, when I want a cozy place to lie, I hop on the sofa, when I am hungry I check out the kitchen counters or trash bins, if I am busy sniffing when my person calls, recalls are optional not mandatory, if I want to play I bark at my person until my favorite toy is produced, when my person holds a treat I work as hard as I can to steal it, if I see a pond, I pull on my leash until it is unclipped and then I run off to swim, when I see a dog running, I join in and chase. You get my drift? If you tried to stop this access, the dogs learn to be sneaky and to steal anything in life they want before you have a chance to stop them (for those of you who even try).

These dogs are raised knowing they can have access to anything and everything at any time they want. It is what I refer to as the dog driving the bus”. The dog decides what stops to make, who to pick up, how fast to go, how long the trip will last, what snacks will be passed and when. Once this pattern is established of course when a bird dog sees a duck and decides he wants that duck it will be very difficult to get him to believe he should listen to your commands in the presence of that duck. H-e-l-l-o-o-o, you are a passenger on this bus! Get back in your seat!

My puppies are raised quite differently, with me controlling access to their reinforcement just as I wrote about in Ruff Love. In this way my dogs are used to earning the things they want, life’s best stuff is not there for you to steal, but it can be there for you to earn. It is about choices.  That is why it is easier for me to get my dogs to do what I want when I want. That doesn’t mean you can’t start today and make a change, it just means it will be more difficult. I have done it with various rescue dogs over the years, so it can be done. When you start with a puppy who has not had the rehearsals of “driving the bus” it may be easier and the process faster but that is no reason not to start and create the best you can with what you have today. Don’t allow this post to be an excuse for you dog to be naughty for the rest of his life. Dust off your copy of Ruff Love and start living the process.

The sad thing is that many performance-sport dog owners have the illusion that in order for a dog to be fast or driven he must be spoiled and out-of-control in their everyday life. Now that may or may not be true if your training methodology involves physical pain and punishment, but certainly my dogs are not lacking in either speed or drive. It is all about balance. You don’t just work control without drive. With every game I play with my puppies I am building both. Control without drive is as useless and frustrating as drive with out control.

Another thing I am told in defense of people letting their dog’s drive the bus is that people want their “dogs to just be dogs,” implying that my dogs are something less than that, or my dogs enjoy their life less. Don’t kid yourself. If that is the reality you have chosen to live in–in order to justify the choices you are making for your own dogs, so be it. But my reality is this; my dogs are family pets first and foremost. They sleep in our bedroom, swim in the indoor pool we put in this new home specifically for them,  romp on our 28 acres daily and train agility when their mama is in the country. My dogs have a great life, living as my pet first, my competition dog a far, far, distance second place.

One of the nicest things I have ever read about my work was written in a dog sport magazine where one of my books was being reviewed. It was written by Kathryn Harvey, the former president of the Agility Association of Canada. What Kathryn wrote was “I envy the clarity to which Susan’s dog’s live their lives”. That line has stuck with me all these years. It was achieved without my realization, but it drives me to be certain I am creating it for every dog since. For dogs to have clarity of the expectations while living a life without any consequence of physical pain, that has got to be extreme happiness. To have the certainty that all of life’s best rewards are there for you and you owner to earn or conquer together as a team.

Certainly the what and how of this relationship building process is a longer read than this blog post would facilitate (hello that is what Advances in Dog Training is for:))  but it leads to Jack Russells that can be called away from squirrels and Border Collies that will come off Sheep when I require it (back in the day when I used to do herding) and yes Lynda Orton-Hill has trained her high drive field bred Golden Retriever to work around birds with the same certainity.

I tell you this to let you know that, yes, control in the face of ANY distraction, regardless how valuable to the dog,  is possible without a shock collar or other violent punishers. There is a better way, find it:).

Today I am grateful for  dogs. I really do love dogs and that is what drives me to continue to find that better way.

23 Comments

  1. Jenny Ruth Yasi says:
    Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 8:32am

    I was doing so well with my one-year-old dog, I had so much confidence in her, one winter day we went to the beach. It was very windy, there was a big chop, her recall was great, even at a long distance, and there was no place for her to go. So I thought. But I was looking at another dog when suddenly she was gone, and when I spotted her again she was 1/8th mile out in the ocean, herding a flock of ducks. I thought she would drown but miraculously, she didn’t, she did come back, but she found the whole experience thrilling. I was exhilarating to be able to take off on me, have an adventure, and then come back.

    Another time, I had been training on a long line (for 3 YEARS), steadily shortening it, increasing our off-leash territory around various distractions, making progress then around feral cats who live around a community theater. She was making excellent progress, and we were to perform on stage that night inside this theatre, so I took her inside, worked her off-leash on the stage and she was great! I thought we were great to go! That night though, as we were performing freestyle, it was hot, and an usher opened a door. Tigerlily did some very enthusiastic moves, I was SO PROUD, and then she leaped right off the stage and ran right out the door after the cats. Fun, fun, FUN!

    Another time, we were sleeping on an old boat we keep in Puerto Rico. I had been working with Tigerlily daily around the feral cats down there, and she was responding great. We were sleeping with a gate latched across the companionway, when suddenly I heard a CRASH. What was that? I got up and Tigerlily was gone, the gate was bent and the scent of cat piss was in the air. A feral cat had apparently jumped onto the boat, and Tigerlily had simply exploded through the gate after her. Fortunately the marina gate was closed, and I was on her tail in my skivvies, or I might never have seen her again.

    Reply

  2. Eric says:
    Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 9:16pm

    Thank you for the last few posts. I am in the process of training my Labrador dog in gundog work for working tests and hopefully field trials (in the UK) and have run into difficulties with his stop whistle at a distance – up to about 75 yards he is perfect, over that he either ignores the stop whistle or pauses and looks at me but not for long enough to redirect him. The general advice in this situation is to ‘run after the dog, scruff him, drag him back to where he was when you blew the whistle, blow the whistle at him and then go back to where you were and redirect him’ which I really don’t want to do – not least because I don’t want to run 75+ yard each time he ignores the whistle!

    So although the rest of the gundog world thinks I’m mad I’m trying something different purely positive reinforcement, it’s working close by and hopefully will continue to work. Its difficult trying to train without using punishment in a world that is full of it (some harsh, some not to bad but still punishment) so thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone and anything is possible with positive reinforcement.

    Reply

  3. Sharon Normandin says:
    Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 5:19pm

    You put an indoor pool in your new house? OMG, I am so jealous!

    Seriously, another great post, Susan, lots of food for thought. Thank you.

    Reply

  4. Michelle says:
    Monday, April 19, 2010 at 4:16pm

    I am dusting off my copy as I type..I do pet obedience and recommend the book to people who have dogs that are out of control..I just had this conversation with one of my students..She was once again having trouble with her dog. ME Well are you doing the ruff love stuff…her well we did it for a couple of months and then dog was good so we stopped.. ME Well it was working why did you stop..remember your dog has been doing this bad behavior for over a year two months is not going to make it go away for ever… Student Well you are right I will get out the book but my husband won’t do such and such…ME..well then you will have to live with the that… Now I am thinking back to the first time I used the ruff love..gosh I did not follow it all the way but never the less my do was awesome compared to others..now thinking hmmm my recall has fallen a bit short of what I used to have so maybe I need to get the book back out and take my own advice.. You can bet my new puppy will get the full dose of ruff love..margie

    Reply

  5. jan wherley says:
    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:48am

    Muddy Waters, my red Australian Cattle Dog girl, she came to me later, as a puppy, but an older one. No interest in toys, not much in food either. Sheep, cows, cats, they are another story. She has SO much drive.
    I went and bot sheep. There is noone on the face of the earth using nonaversive training for herding. My aversives have had no effect in reducing her drive for chasing. No amount of play has increased her drive in agility – yet. Great and interesting reads!!! jan and the muddster

    Reply

  6. Richard says:
    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 12:58am

    I have seen first hand how much care you put into your dogs in every way and I am certain the foundation and boundaries you have set are a big part of having such a great relationship with your dogs. I am also reasonably certain that those who want dogs to be dogs, are generally lacking in their relationship with their dog(s).

    One of the jokes I have heard regarding myself and my new puppies is that I have a lot of rules. I certainly do as I want good dogs in all aspects of their lives in and out of the ring and I know how hard it is to train things out rather than preventing them in the first place. With 3 puppies, it is essential to set boundaries and make sure there are rules, or one of them will be driving my bus.

    Even with all these rules, no one will ever say that I don’t have a great relationship with Stevie Ray, or any one of my other dogs and the bond we have is the greatest thing about having dogs. I love my puppies and the boundaries I set are one of the reasons I am able to.

    I can certainly appreciate the statement “Control without drive is as useless and frustrating as drive with out control,” as I have always had trouble with the argument about what is more important, speed, or accuracy. I have always said that it is maximizing the combination of both that is the key to success when it comes to winning championships in any venue, and it is the goal of maximizing the speed and accuracy together that I strive for in our training.

    Reply

  7. Donna says:
    Sunday, April 11, 2010 at 11:48pm

    Thanks for the fantastic posts this week Susan. Sam’s post about field training made me think about my observations today during the first spring swim. When my golden began agility 4 years ago, I did it all wrong and she never developed drive for agility, but she does it for me. I’ve done it right with my BC, but I think the drive is there instinctively and I nurtured that drive using techniques I learned at puppy camp. Watching my Golden’s amazing drive today in the pond today chasing a bumper made me realize that the drive *is* there and that is her ultimate reinforcement. Do I have to train agility near a pond all the time in order to use this as reward? Or do I just give in to my dislike of killing birds and try field training with her? One reason I don’t is because I know of no one who trains without aversive techniques and I’m not experienced (or driven) enough to figure out what to do on my own.

    I’ll admit, I don’t love field training. I love agility. However, I will try it if that is what my dog truly loves. But what I won’t do is use aversive techniques to get her to follow the rules. One of the most important things I learned at puppy camp and through your posts is that “I CAN find a better way!” Too bad Sam is in the UK or I could have someone with whom to train in the field.

    Also, as a geneticist, I’ve thought about this a lot following conversations with Labrador people about how well punishment works for their dogs. I think that we have selected our field dogs to have so much drive to work for their chosen task, that they do it despite the positive punishment techniques that have been used for decades. Those that cannot take the punishment (i.e. soft dogs), don’t get to pass on their genes. Just because a dog *can* work through punishment, doesn’t make it right and doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. I, for one, will take the oath to find a better way and I’m sure the rest of your readers and students will do the same.

    Reply

  8. mtrebino says:
    Saturday, April 10, 2010 at 7:59pm

    I am dusting off my copy as I type..I do pet obedience and recommend the book to people who have dogs that are out of control..I just had this conversation with one of my students..She was once again having trouble with her dog. ME Well are you doing the ruff love stuff…her well we did it for a couple of months and then dog was good so we stopped.. ME Well it was working why did you stop..remember your dog has been doing this bad behavior for over a year two months is not going to make it go away for ever… Student Well you are right I will get out the book but my husband won’t do such and such…ME..well then you will have to live with the that… Now I am thinking back to the first time I used the ruff love..gosh I did not follow it all the way but never the less my do was awesome compared to others..now thinking hmmm my recall has fallen a bit short of what I used to have so maybe I need to get the book back out and take my own advice.. You can bet my new puppy will get the full dose of ruff love..margie

    Reply

  9. Laurie S. Coger, DVM,CVP says:
    Saturday, April 10, 2010 at 6:31pm

    OK, I’m sold on the AIDT camp. Do you have dates lined up later in the year — I need to give the office and the rest of my life many months notice ;~)

    Reply

  10. Monica says:
    Saturday, April 10, 2010 at 8:44am

    I have just started doing the Ruff Love program on my dog. Is it possible to go through it without the head halter?

    Thanks for so many awesome posts! I’m learning a lot from this blog. 🙂

    Reply

  11. Sam says:
    Saturday, April 10, 2010 at 4:48am

    Thank you for the last few posts. I am in the process of training my Labrador dog in gundog work for working tests and hopefully field trials (in the UK) and have run into difficulties with his stop whistle at a distance – up to about 75 yards he is perfect, over that he either ignores the stop whistle or pauses and looks at me but not for long enough to redirect him. The general advice in this situation is to ‘run after the dog, scruff him, drag him back to where he was when you blew the whistle, blow the whistle at him and then go back to where you were and redirect him’ which I really don’t want to do – not least because I don’t want to run 75+ yard each time he ignores the whistle!

    So although the rest of the gundog world thinks I’m mad I’m trying something different purely positive reinforcement, it’s working close by and hopefully will continue to work. Its difficult trying to train without using punishment in a world that is full of it (some harsh, some not to bad but still punishment) so thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone and anything is possible with positive reinforcement.

    Reply

  12. Shannon says:
    Friday, April 9, 2010 at 9:35pm

    I learned from the world of horses- All go and no whoa is no fun! Just ordered a copy of Ruff Love.

    Reply

  13. Kim says:
    Friday, April 9, 2010 at 9:23pm

    LOL, yes Mary Jo, I totally agree with you about the flyball dogs. I started my dog in flyball first and created a monster. I was told not do any kind of obedience around flyball or self control at all lest we “kill the drive!” after all “its not flyball unless your bleeding”, so true for many. I know so many dogs that are totally without ANY rules and just run wild(many on my team) and yes, they think that it makes them faster.(and they cant bother to train them) I am trying hard to correct my many mistakes that I made because I didnt know any better, so happy I found a better way!

    Reply

  14. Mary Jo says:
    Friday, April 9, 2010 at 7:22pm

    I just loved this post, it definitely is the same thing I’ve seen having raised my dogs for years with very strict rules for puppies. I still remember a friend years ago giving me grief for not letting my puppy “be a puppy” but that’s why my dogs are always so well behaved, they just never have an opportunity to learn that anything else is worth doing. When people would ask me (as they so often did) where they could get a dog like him, I’d always explain that training was at least 75% of what they saw.

    I wish more people in flyball would learn this. I don’t allow any of the crazy barking and antics that most flyball dogs participate in and I think it keeps my dogs healthier and certainly they tire less over the course of the weekend. They certainly don’t race any slower because of it (although even if they did the tradeoff is worth it, IMO). If a dog is willing to hold a stay with flyball racing going on, there’s certainly not much else that is going to be a problem!

    Reply

  15. Laura says:
    Friday, April 9, 2010 at 10:11am

    Something I learned from you a few years ago was the importance of clarity (I think of it as maintaining black and white for my criteria). Not only does it make training easier (which I am discovering in spades with my current dog), it’s the fairest thing to do for the dog. It’s easy to think that letting things slide is being easier on the dog (i.e. allowing things during the day at home that you wouldn’t allow during a formal training session) but in reality, it creates confusion for them. At least until they figure out the context of when they have to perform and when they don’t, which dogs are so adept at doing. 🙂

    Reply

  16. Lesley Bowen says:
    Friday, April 9, 2010 at 9:25am

    Today I am grateful that you have written this blog entry.
    All of your April posts have been superb!
    Thank you.

    Reply

  17. Karen M says:
    Friday, April 9, 2010 at 1:22am

    With my latest pup, I tried to stick to the Ruff Love programme but failed dismally when it came to access to toys (only chew toys to be freely available.) Alas, my husband thought pup needed access to toys otherwise he’d be bored. Now I have a dog that LOVES his toys but often just doesn’t want to share with me (i.e. retrieves). I’ve tried lots of ways to try to overcome this and am still working on it!

    Reply

  18. Diane says:
    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 11:24pm

    your blog this past week has been the best ever, thank you for making me rethink soooo many training techniques…..

    Thank you
    Diane

    Reply

  19. Mary M says:
    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 6:50pm

    Really wished I gone to your AiDT seminar immediatly following bringing home my current puppy, but we are getting there….can’t wait to see you in CA for critical elements with both her and my red and white boy.

    Reply

  20. Trudie says:
    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 4:35pm

    There’s a new pyr shep at my dog club who took an immediate shine to mine and seeks him out specially as a playmate. Now, my dog is both wary and sociable with other dogs, but the look on his face when this happened made me think of the Walt Disney animated film “The Sword in the Stone”, when the little boy is turned into a squirrel and he meets a girl squirrel who falls in love with him… He looked at me like “Mom?”
    However, not to underestimate the male ego! (just kidding) but in our case, neck craning to scan for the other dog and frustration began to ensue from the obsession. This is why I’m doing my best to apply the “win-win” Premack principle and a better time is being had by all.
    So, while I’m all for what my mom used to call “good clean fun”, I think you’re right, it’s not just about letting a dog be a dog.
    For, on the other end of the emotional spectrum there is another dog who my dog hates with a vengeance! This can be an equally over-the-threshold obsession. It takes working on to de-sensitize.
    My dog is 4 yrs now and I’m still learning as we go along.

    Reply

  21. Renee says:
    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 1:40pm

    Really a great post Susan! And I keep thinking that I need to go to the AiDT sometime! Anne and I were talking about it last night. Need to get it on my list for me as a “dog trainer”….not for agility (though of course it will help that too)…but for me and my dogs and my future dogs!

    I keep CRACKING UP when I read about the BC “calling off” or “coming off” sheep. LOL! I must say, a BC who won’t do those things isn’t that much a sheep dog! Just as in any sport (agility, obed, bird dog trials, etc), herding is about the dog and the handler working together! I don’t know much about coonhound trials…perhaps they are one of the sports that is more about the dog? Certainly lure coursing is. Not much handler interaction there.

    Anyway, thanks for a great thought provoking, insightful post. 🙂

    Reply

  22. Karissa says:
    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 12:17pm

    I really needed this post, so thank you for writing it. My copy of Ruff Love is due to arrive today or tomorrow. I worry so much that I won’t be strong enough to commit to the program, because I’ve always been one of those “touchy-feely-emotional” dog owners who pretty much only uses crates at agility trials and for leaving puppies at home. I like for my dogs to be around/with me all the time and able to play together. This has worked well in the past and provided me with excellent relationships with my boys — But now I’ve got a stubborn, willful and SMART female Border Collie who is not giving me the relationship I’d desired (she prefers to play with my other dogs). So many people have said, “Do the Ruff Love program with her, you won’t regret it.” I hope I can put forth the effort required, because everyone says the end results are worth it.

    Reply

  23. Andrea Rigler says:
    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 9:32am

    IMO – this and crate games are by far the most important things you teach.

    We did our first puppy camp with Lei being 14 weeks old, and that was already too late. We had let her have 5 weeks of free, open, unrestricted play with her new big sister! I wish we would have read Ruff Love to learn your foundation before getting the new pup – THEN done puppy camp.

    A year later, we’re still working on it with Lei – it is much harder after the fact. It’s been much easier with our 2 rescues that followed, to control their reinforcement from day 1 – they were easy in comparison.

    I have a theory that a new environment (new house, people, dogs, etc) helps to break the bad habits sooner.

    Reply

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