Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Focus on Strengths; Not Weaknesses

I was recently reading an article wherein the author stated he had read a book called "Soar With Your Strengths." Although the book is about business management methods, the general takeaway applies to a lot in life:

"Don't try to teach someone how to improve their weaknesses, but rather focus on having them improve their strengths."


Some people might disagree, but I think that's paramount in a successful dog training program. Instead of focusing on "bad" dog behavior, hone in on what "good" behavior the dog is displaying, and cultivate that.

Picture this entirely hypothetical situation: your parents get a 7-week-old puppy. They haven't had a puppy in over 7 years...so their patience is wearing thin with a rambunctious, young, untrained dog. Enter "trying to improve weakness." Everything the puppy does is "No." (Or, knowing your mother, more like "NO!!")

The puppy trots over to stick her head in the garbage -- "No." The puppy starts chewing on a shoe -- "No!" The puppy lunges at the end of the leash -- "NO!!!"

See a pattern? EVERYTHING the pup does is "bad." We've all had a puppy -- they don't know what they don't know. And they WANT to know about everything...all the time. But, if we're constantly mad at them for everything they do, won't we be teaching them not to behave at all?

We, as dog trainers, need to channel our puppy's energy into doing things that get him rewarded, versus focusing on all the "no" behavior.

But, how do we do that?

Well, first we need to know what Puppy is good at. Most puppies that young are good at chewing on things, having accidents in the house, galloping about wildly before crashing for a big nap, chasing anything that catches their attention, and eating.

Okay. So, let's redirect "bad" behavior into "good" behavior. Let's try our aforementioned scenario again. The puppy sticks her head in the garbage (undesirable behavior). So we get Puppy's attention with something even MORE delectable than garbage and call her over. She comes (desirable behavior), we give a treat...what just happened?

Did we just begin teaching Puppy how to "come"?

Let's try another one: Puppy starts chewing on a shoe (undesirable behavior). We again get Puppy's attention with a brand-new, uber-fun squeaky toy! Look how much MORE fun this is than an old shoe...come get it! Puppy gallops over (desirable behavior), we give the toy as a treat. Again, teaching "come."

Last one: Puppy lungeing at the end of the leash. This one's tough, because puppies have sheer strength belied by their small size. You think you have control and then off they go, pulling for all they're worth.

Now: the easiest way to get Puppy to stop pulling is to -- once again -- have something more desirable in your hand than whatever the puppy's running after. (I recommend starting this exercise in the house, with the least amount of distractions...after all, we want to set Puppy up for success.) In this case, small, easily-chewable, utterly delectable treats work wonders.

This is where your clicker training comes in VERY handy. Of course, since we're working with a puppy you need to ensure you've properly charged the clicker. For this exercise, the second -- and I mean the exact MOMENT that puppy puts a bit of slack in the leash, you click & treat. At first Puppy won't know WHY the clicks are coming, necessarily, but the more you move around and Pup figures out slack leash = click = treat, you're in for a revelation.

Notice in these three examples we don't yell at the puppy for offering undesirable ("bad") behavior -- rather we focus on redirecting their attention to desirable ("good") behavior.

This type of training works wonders, folks.

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