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A Lack of Rules and Drive in Dog Training

Posted on 03/15/12 42 Comments

While many of you are putting your life with your dogs under a microscope after my last two newsletters, I fear some of you may be drawing the wrong conclusions. As you observe your dogs’ source of reinforcement and joy you are observing that perhaps your spouses seem to be more reinforcing to your dogs then you might be. That the dog seems to jump around, be more active or “joyous” then they are working with you.

I would caution you all to not try to think you know “WHY” your partners appear to be more fun than you. Some of you have written the conclusion that it is because your spouse has “no rules.” This is something old time obedience trainers would preach as well “We have to be so tough on them in the ring we need to give them their head a bit and spoil them at home so thy have more drive”  I was told when I first started training in obedience.

John walking with the girls but who are the girls walking with? Where are you mom?

Let me assure you in the Garrett-Blenkey household that is not the case. John has few rules for the dogs, none that get enforced consistently:). On top of that he is feeds them all of their meals every day and still my dogs have only eyes for me.

I think it is great idea to try to “borrow some of your partners joy”. Keep studying those relationships and see what they are doing that you are not. See what the dogs respond to while around them. I can assure you it isn’t the “lack of rules” that is creating what they have together. It all comes back to reinforcement. Even though John feeds my dogs almost all of their meals PLUS he is the only one in the house that gives “cookies-for-nothin'” (every morning @ 10 AM all of the dogs get a cookie whether they need it or not:)) for some reason my dogs see me, who has and does enforce plenty of “rules” as more of a source or reinforcement in their lives!

Hmmmmm. Why do you suppose that is?  Leave your thoughts, I have my own I will be sharing later. I love that you are studying this and trying to get more joy in to your relationship with your dogs but please, just recognize as Bob Bailey reminds us, remember that training is knowing; what you have, what you want and creating a plan to get there! Try not to get to wrapped up on the “why” because at the end of the day none of us will really ever know will we?

I will give you a little hint here. If you take a look at this older video clip of me imitating people who lack control with their dogs in an aroused state. They try to get that control by shouting or hitting which creates even more arousal in the dog. In this demo (or with these real life dogs) is it the lack of rules that makes Buzzy/other dogs higher and higher or my response to his “lack of desired response”?

Today I am grateful for Roz. Roz was our bookkeeper who had to move back to Newfoundland a few months ago. Last year at this time, Roz had the foresight to build me a “template” of a financial report I have to file with the government every year. My brother receives a disability pension I am in charge of filing all of the paperwork each year. Let me just say financial reports are not my strength . . . accounting reports and I should never be in the same room together. Actually in 1982 I was on the verge of failing an accounting course in University which I needed for a Business minor. My professor made a “deal” with me, he told me he would give me a passing grade if I promised never took another course with him again:). See I even scarred him for life. Accounting is my kryptonite for certain. Thank you Roz, you turned what would have taken me days into a 2 hour job!


  1. Jackson says:
    Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 11:19am

    I have been the partner who interacts with dogs freely, bucking rules. I give them treats for going potty or just when they beg for them. They follow me through the house when I come home, expecting me to give them treats, which I often do. I’d like to be more strict, but I figure as long as their housebroken, I can’t ask for more. I hate that training and discipline of dogs has to be so angsty. Can have fun with dogs, then where is the joy in life. My partner counters with strictness and mad looks and monotonous commands. Boring.


  2. Anna says:
    Monday, October 29, 2012 at 9:17pm

    Thanks for sharing. This adds more info to the dog owners about dog training. Keep posting.


  3. Susan says:
    Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 12:43am

    LOL we feed raw. Chicken necks for their evening mean and a mix of mostly meat with veggies & fruit in the AM Meal.


    • Sadie says:
      Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 11:07am

      Do you take frozen meat when on the road or just buy at your location?


      • Susan says:
        Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 11:35am

        @Sadie, it really depends where we are going. In Europe I have some amazing on-line students/now friends that take care of my dogs. They make sure the have all they need. When travelling within Canada or the USA I take some but research a head of time were I can buy it around where I will be staying.

  4. Tiva says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 6:03pm

    What does John feed the dogs at meal time? :O I am curious to know what SG feeds…


    • Bridget says:
      Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 12:17am

      I am curious about the same thing! I work at Chuck and Don’s which is a premium pet food outlet based in MN and CO. We have such a large variety of food. It would be awesome to know what Susan feeds!


  5. Marg says:
    Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 5:53pm

    I had forgotten how wonderful that video was. I laughed until I cried, my dogggie boy (bernese mtn dog) got up from my feet and tried climbing into my lap confused by my actions. Thanks susan for the reality check and the comic relief.


  6. Heidi and Poppie says:
    Friday, March 30, 2012 at 5:53pm

    He he – just goes to show how much you care and how you read every ones responses to your blogs. Thank you!! I can confirm that I have stole a few of Daniels games for myself… Maybe it was jealously that was talking when I mentioned Poppie and Daniels relationship, and actually with hindsight may be i’m being tough on myself.

    In fact it was another recaller who watched one of our training videos and mentioned how they loved watching Poppies joy and our fun together- made me realise I focus so much on what needs improving i forget to be grateful for what we have. We still have a way to go, but a nice quote sums it up perfectly i think….

    it’s not about the destination but about making the most of the journey.


  7. Julia Lane says:
    Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 11:46pm

    Oh Susan, your post couldn’t be more timely! Just today I was teasing my husband that he has stolen yet another agility dog from me. Our 5.5 mo BC has a clear preference for my husband even though I primarily feed, walk, train and play with him. The biggest difference is that I work from home, so he has more ready access to me. Can a dog take a person for granted?

    Also, (and perhaps this is a more dramatic difference than I care to admit), my husband is an infinitely more patient, laid back person. I tend to be more patient with other people’s dogs than my own because I’m constantly thinking about goals to achieve. As educational as PP & Recallers are, I am often overwhelmed by the homework & feel like I’ll never catch up. I struggle to maintain my training journal or clearly enunciate goals.


  8. Christine says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 2:42am

    My partner is one of the all in life is free and I am different. He plays, feeds, hugs,…. I am the one training and asking for things. Still the dogs will having a choice be with me, even when I am doing non dog stuff.
    I think it is because it is of the black and white world (as you said in your seminar). We are much clearer to them and this gives security and happyness. Like the videos and blog you posted about your dogs and Swaggers behavior amoung each other.
    We also give them the possibility for good choices.


  9. Ronna says:
    Monday, March 19, 2012 at 8:29pm

    OMG that video was awesome…creating GREAT tug drive while saying ” let go!’!! How many times I have seen that.
    I will have to say that while my dogs do love ‘Daddy’, they really do NOT listen to him. He does 50% or so of the feeding and pottying, yet if I call them to come in from the yard, they actually do come.
    They also ‘break’ a lot of my rules when with him; I think that is because MEN are MUCH harder to train than dogs ( he doesn’t remember what the rules are, because he simply doesn’t pay ATTENTION when I tell him.)
    Hey…there’s a million $$$ seminar…Five minutes to a perfectly trained MAN…
    So my dogs DO have a drive to train and learn with me, the ‘Rule Maker’, while they have desire to jump at and pester ‘Dad’ just because he will respond in an amusing way.


    • Rebecca Fouts says:
      Monday, March 26, 2012 at 10:56pm

      I got two books for you:

      “What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons from Animals and Their Trainers.” by Amy Sutherland (A movie is/was to follow.)


      “How to Make Your Man Behave in 21 Days or Less Using the Secrets of Professional Dog Trainers” by Karen Salmansohn

      As funny as those books are, the cross-over psychology of reinforcement is why the inmate prison programs that use dog training are so effective. I worked for AIM HI at Ft. Leavewnworth, (a service dog training program that trained prison inmates to train service dogs, placed with veterans and family members) and MANY of the men told me how what we were teaching them helped them with their interactions with their family.

      And this blog applies as well. You want your kids to be calm? Be the mirror — be calm. Start screaming and all you do is ramp them up. It all goes right down the leash, whether the animal on the other end is dog, child, or beast (man). LOL


    • Celia Ulmer says:
      Tuesday, October 20, 2015 at 2:52pm

      I have a term I borrowed from one of my trainer friends while we were jointly bemoaning about husbands/boyfriends and their interactions with our dogs. She calls her boyfriend the “untrainer”. When I was at a well visit to the vet, I referred to my husband as the “untrainer”. I thought my vet would split his pants laughing so hard. I have a feeling, he’ll be using that story with his other clients’ owners.


  10. Kate says:
    Monday, March 19, 2012 at 4:36pm

    My husband and I both train the dog and both feed the dog, but I am the one she hangs with (and moreso since R3!). Both of us can get stellar attention when training. But where my husband trains mostly OB and mostly during the evening walk, I train a larger variety of things in more frequent chunks. It’s not just about the cookies – it’s about the challenge of a problem to solve, a chance to show off, the fun of the unpredictable. When we’re really engaged in the training, the cookies seem to be taken simply out of courtesy.


  11. CJ says:
    Monday, March 19, 2012 at 3:03pm

    That video clip is hilarious! I had to teach myself self control before I could get my dog to have some too :). My dog seems to love training with whoever makes the rules the most clear (aka the two wonderful trainers that I have for obedience and agility). She adores my brother, who seems to be her personal George Clooney, but she still loves training with me best. I have rules but I do my best to be fair in teaching her what they are so she gets to win a good portion of the time. And she looks delighted with herself when she gets it right, it bring me joy!


  12. Meg says:
    Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 2:46pm

    I enjoyed seeing the’bad trainer’….my first viewing. I liked Esther ‘s comment about mutual fun but I, too, am the one who keeps things ‘running’. It was the same with our children when they were young…hubby said that in every family one has to be the ‘bad’ guy and one the ‘good’ guy AND I am the good guy so guess who you are??!!! And in the end….ta da!!! No magic here 😉


  13. Jo Ann says:
    Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 12:04pm

    I have 2 dogs that I an trying to build drive in. One is 7 1/2 and the other is 6. We have been doing agility for about 3 years. I have read the last 2 newsletters about reinforcing and triggers. And have been mindful of how/when/what/where I give reinforcement. I am so wanting to “get this right” that I am stressing myself out. This morning my dogs greeted me all happy and wagging their tails. My reaction was to say “Hi Puppies” and pat them on their heads. Then I thought that I had not asked them to “do” anything before I gave them that reinforcement. Last night my one dog was “invited” on to the couch. He had to sit before I let him jump up. While he was sleeping I reached over and pet him. He did not ask for it. Was it ok to do this or should I be asking my dogs to “do” something before I give them any reinforcement?


  14. Mary M says:
    Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 12:23pm

    Wish I was better with numbers I offer to come work for you 😉 Alas, I am terrible, Cheryl keeps all the financial stuff straight around here!


  15. sue-w says:
    Friday, March 16, 2012 at 8:57pm

    Just love that video! Too, for me, it is one of the favorites.


  16. Kim L says:
    Friday, March 16, 2012 at 4:12pm

    I would say for me, if I am not focused, my dog isn’t either. So it isn’t so much about the rules as much as my dog knowing what I want, and what to expect from me, and maintaining focus.

    Loved the example of the bad dog trainer. Too funny.


  17. Kathy says:
    Friday, March 16, 2012 at 1:51pm

    All of our dogs would rather be doing something with me than hanging out with “he who has no rules”. I think it is because they like working with me and they have a history of reinforcement from all that work. And to them and me the work is fun and not really work. I guess that’s transfer of value.


    • Rebecca Fouts says:
      Monday, March 26, 2012 at 10:42pm

      Kathy — I gotta use that some day in classes. “He who has no rules” — LOVE IT.


  18. Esther says:
    Friday, March 16, 2012 at 12:46pm

    My husband naturally has a very good contact with my dog. I’m the one doing the precision training, but he’s the one merely thinking about fun to have with the dog.
    I’m the serious one in our relationship, he’s the crazy one. When friends with children are visiting, in no time the kids are reprimanded for being naughty, but guess who’s the big kid that got them crazy in the first place….yep my hubby.
    When I let go of my seriousness and enter into the fun zone, in a couple of days my dog’s attention for me increases. Thanks to my dog, Susan’s lessons and the insights I’m having I’m getting more relaxed in life, more fun and so the relationship with my dog is improving.
    I guess the key is being FUN and staying playfull.


  19. Lauren says:
    Friday, March 16, 2012 at 11:05am

    Love that video. The dog with the bad trainer knows how to get the bad trainer to play, but the bad trainer thinks the dog is bad so tries to get the dog to behave, but the dog thinks the bad trainer is playing!

    So if you can only manage to do one or the other, just playing will create more drive than just training. But if you can manage to do both, play training is the best.


  20. Michele Fry says:
    Friday, March 16, 2012 at 10:06am

    Been following your blog and taking your online classes for a good while, but can’t find one darn thing about teaching the tugging OUT command. I look just like your bad dog trainer in your hilarious video above, trying to get my Lucky Lucy to let go of any tug toy. I’ve tried dropping treats on the ground from my mouth, kneeing her in the chest, sticking my finger in her mouth, bopping her on the nose. You name it, I’ve tried it. The only thing that works is letting go. Then she pesters me relentlessly, waving it around, shoving it into my hands to tug some more, and eventually she drops it, but if I try to grab it off the ground, she nosedives for it. If you have covered this OUT command already, please direct me to the page! If not, please help!


    • Ellen says:
      Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 11:23pm

      can you ask her to sit? Generally dogs unless taught to ” hold” will drop object form the mouth when asked to sit.


    • Rebecca Fouts says:
      Monday, March 26, 2012 at 10:40pm

      Have you tried trading one toy for another?

      Another way to go about it is to calm your body down and stop the game. Hold the toy close to your body. Avoid eye contact. Don’t ‘tug’, just hold it study. The game stops. Don’t respond to her attempts to keep tugging, just hold the toy steady and close to your body. For a small dog, I get down on my knees, and I hold the tug toy steady against my side or leg to keep it steady and still. Be boring.
      The moment she opens her mouth and lets go — the game begins again – toss it! Show her that the game isn’t always over when you take the toy back. The game just begins. If every time you take the toy the toy goes away and the game is over, no wonder she doesn’t want to give it back. REWARD her for giving it up by continuing the game. Ignore her attempts to continue the game when you’re asking for the toy back. Just a theory.


      • Lora says:
        Monday, April 2, 2012 at 8:46am

        I have the same problem with my Golden. She feels the tug game is what it’s all about. I’ve tried trading her for food or another toy and the food works momentarily. Would NEVER hit her to get the toy out of her mouth but have stopped the play and refuse to tug when she insists. Any other suggestions? She almost drowned one day because she refused to “out” the decoy in the pond and was going to swim in with it no matter what. Happy for any suggestion!

      • Christine says:
        Monday, April 2, 2012 at 9:05am

        Hello Lora,
        I teach my dogs from puppy to take the rewards as offered like Susan. I have three chesapeakes and a lab and some guest dogs.

        HWne dogs do not out simply stop the tugging but hold on and take the collar. This way it stops the fun of pulling against you and when they out reward with a new tug a throw a treat and a tug,…
        I teach my dog that they need to take that treat (highest value treat though) if they want to retrieve. I need to reward with cookies, too as in group training others would kill me if I start throwing or tugging when I think my dog made the right choice. If my dog in the beginning cannot eat than I go as far away until he eats/tugs,.. what ever I need and I first teach the consept in easier situations. First time My husband stood in the field I walked back and forth more than he retrieved actually he did not retrieve at all. Next time was much better and he retrieved on layed out by me,…
        much fun exploring

  21. nellie.marsh says:
    Friday, March 16, 2012 at 4:46am

    What I observed with my dogs (a mother, 2 daughters, one granddaughter) was that whenever one member of the pack was away for some time, on her return she got an enthusiastic welcome from everyone, and especially if it was their mother who returned. You can see all sorts of appeasing behaviours in these moments. (BTW she would simply work her way through her kids and have a drink first, seemingly ignoring all the fuss).

    I see some similarity to the first weeks, when the litter is still inside the whelping quarters, but the dam already leaves for an hour or two to take a sunbath and a rest. When she walks back in, the pups will greet her wildly and push one another around to get to her first (and her nipples 😉

    I tend to think with humans, too, it’s often the simple fact that one pack member was away for a longer period of time that will cause this excited greeting – it’s an appeasing behaviour (some puppies will even widdle on the floor).
    But most people will reinforce this excitement because they find it cute and flattering. And that way they build a dog that eagerly waits for the sound of the keys and goes over the top for the subsequent wild game with Daddy!

    I always try to imitate my old bitch when I come home. Silently smile at the homage, but take my coat off first, then put the bought goods into the fridge and check on the answering machine. And when the tidal wave has calmed down, give them a hello and a treat for being good girls. I go, I come back, no big deal.


  22. Sharon S says:
    Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 11:37pm

    I think our household is similar to Andrea’s and Sadie’s – we both have a great deal of fun with the dogs, but I am the one who really concentrates on transferring the value of things to me.

    Had not really thought about the ‘why’ of the dogs looking to me first ….. transfer of value is all that comes to mind at the moment.


  23. Wanda says:
    Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 11:30pm

    I think that dogs are opportuistic. They will go searching for the easiest path to sucess. When I watch my dogs with my agility instructor, if I let her, my female is always going and looking for some type of reward that she may not need to work so had to achieve. I know that I have rewarded that behavior intentionally, So what does Otter do….she stalks the crowd for the good folk, the ones that feed her and, whamo she gets what she wants. We are greatful that we have you to remind us of these slips in our training


  24. Debra Jones says:
    Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 7:16pm

    P.S…Susan, do you know how much I love that video of you and the Buzz man?!!?!? It ALWAYS gets a huge laugh with tears everytime I see it!


  25. Debra Jones says:
    Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 7:13pm

    IT’s definitely your response to the dog that gets them excited! I would also say, in thinking of myself & Snap and my hubby & Snap; She loves to work to see my response to her. My positive expressions, positions and verbal responses are her At The Top List of rewards. If my responses are mediocre or I don’t respond and just quietly re-do; she knows to work harder….
    With my hubby, he is good about having her do something for a treat – but it’s always the same thing…and the last piece of treat is given to her “because your Snap”. She know it’s no brainer to get treats from Dad! But I don’t nag my hubby…he’s come a long way baby on even having a dog in the house! Snap stoled his heart, I can’t mess with his mind! LOL

    These posts have been awesome for me. I’m incorporating some new “triggers” in hopes I can get Snap even more excited for me!


  26. Sadie says:
    Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 6:27pm

    I am thinking the same thing as you Andrea. Our dogs both primarily have eyes for me. (He’s even recalled them and had our border collie come directly to me instead of him lol!) We both feed the dogs equally as often, and my partner dishes out lots of love and the occasional free cookie. But I’m the one who does the work-for-play sessions, the value building practice, and much of the walking and play time. I’m also the person who is the key to “fun” things like classes and high value toys. Maybe because I’m the person who is always providing the direct value for work, (and the 1 on 1 time that comes with it) there’s more value towards me in general?


  27. Melinda Faubel says:
    Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 6:04pm

    One of my friends has been onto me about watching that particular video and I just haven’t gotten around to it. Oh my gosh it’s hilarious!!!! And we all know that the funniest things are those that have a core of truth to them…


  28. Jane Danby says:
    Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 3:12pm

    I have watched this video so many times over the years and it still has me rocking in my seat….


    • Esther says:
      Friday, March 16, 2012 at 12:41pm

      Same here, this video makes me laugh out loud every time I see it. I actually tried it with my dog when he was not so much into tugging and it actually improved the tugging 😉


  29. Andrea says:
    Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 2:56pm

    You’ve done tons of GREAT videos Susan but this is my all time favourite! I learned so much about engaging my dogs in play that we all enjoy from it.
    In our house I am the enforcer and we are both providers of joy – the dogs enjoy spending time with both of us but, like in your house, always have their eye on me. I think it’s because I do the things that have built value attached. Chasing a thrown toy or ball is fun but it’s even more rewarding for our crew when attached to a job so it becomes a pay day.


  30. Clyde says:
    Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 2:16pm

    I believe it is because the “rules” have been taught using reinforcement and that there has been a transfer of value to Susan in the process. She has become the cookie.


  31. Phil says:
    Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 1:34pm

    I think that our four legged friends want, love and respect the consistency of rules in the relationship; the person who reinforces and defines the expected behaviours is easier for them to figure out. While those other people who act without consistency may be very kind and loving but represent a puzzle that can’t be figured out. My dogs seem to prefer knowing exactly what is going on, knowing that they can predict and count on an outcome consistently.

    That doesn’t mean that they don’t have fun and enjoy themselves within the boundary of the rules on the contrary I think it gives them a stability and a real place of comfort that allows them to truly relax, be excited, tear around like mad things or be extraordinarily focused knowing what the “rule maker” has set out for them at a given time, in a given situation. They can count on the ”rule” to be their guide, that it will be consistent.
    I think that is why most dogs that I know, even most people that I know prefer to be around people that are consistent in their application of rules and standards.


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