Who Drives Your Bus?
Following on from my blog post “Birds, Sheep, Rats and other Out of Control Rewards“… 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 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 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.