Thinking about several blog posts I’ve read recently, and our Little Disaster I think the time has come for a more serious post on some of my personal training philosophies.

An update on Miss Bri’s confidence first. Thankfully Bri is recovering quite nicely. My sweet, amazing, wonderful, Helper Hound, Holly, has been mentoring her. She’s showed her the ropes, proper greetings for humans and canines, good house manners, how to wait, sit pretty, and wave. Bri’s also been learning good leash manners from her. Believe me or not, I haven’t taught Bri those things, yet she knows them. Love my hound!!

Holly has an exceptional amount of tolerance.

As Bri gets used to our lifestyle and is coming out of her fear stage she’s getting better and better with everything. True to what her breeder said, she recovers remarkably quickly from scares. She refocuses on me when asked, and checks in with me with surprising frequency. Her focus is quite strong too, and she’s learned to offer behaviors when seeking treats and praise.

Brave lil' thing.

She’s also taken to having her teeth brushed. I rather think she enjoys it! I was all geared up for having to work a little bit at a time for several months to get her used to it, but we’re up to about a half minute of brushing and she doesn’t fuss at all. She just waits for her reward, which is the opportunity to lick the toothbrush clean at the end of the session.

All said, Bri is truly an exceptional pup so far. I’m so looking forward to continued work with her, she’s intelligent, witty, and friendly without having the Lab-type over-enthusiastic joy. (Not that that’s bad, but I’m just glad I don’t need to worry about her jumping up too much.)

Silly girl.

Now, with my bragging out of the way, on to my opinions on training.

I quite firmly believe in pushing the boundaries of comfort, both my own and my dog’s. However, I will not, ever push them beyond what they will do themselves. If I need to take the leash and pull, push or physically manipulate them into something, they’re not ready for it.

I learned this with Holly. If I forced her into something she’d shut down. I know what it’s like to shut down, it’s not fun, and in my opinion it’s beyond cruel to push any living creature beyond their limits in that way.

I eventually figured out that I could convince Holly to do things she wasn’t comfortable with, by simply working on her threshold. I’d up the criteria just a liiitle bit,  as soon as she made one tiny step towards whatever it was I was looking for, jackpots of high value treats were given, and praise lavished on her.

Soon enough Holly was starting to push the boundaries on her own. At a word from me, a little bit of encouragement she’d up her own threshold. She’d work just a little bit harder at overcoming her fear and she’d do it!

In my opinion, force is completely unnecessary. If you cannot convince your dog to do what you’re asking without physically making them then you have pushed too far.

What is the point of using force?

In my experience, when force was used the only result was a shut down. What sort of relationship is that? When you care for an animal, any animal, you are taking responsibility for their wellbeing. You owe it to them to understand their limits and work within those boundaries.

When an animal shows clear signs of fear or dislike for something and you ignore it, that is showing an incredible lack of respect for their needs. When an emotion is shown, whether it be fear, dislike, or joy, pay attention! For the love of this good green planet, don’t just force them through it thinking that “Oh, they’ll just get over it.” No! They are learning that their handler won’t listen to them, and that leads to them feeling the need to deal with their problems without your help, leading to things like reactivity.

If you cannot get your dog to work on an obstacle, or in a situation without physically manipulating them, then (in my opinion) you are doing something wrong.

Part of working with a Service Dog or Service Dog in Training is learning mutual trust. While Holly and I were working out in public, and still, even though we’re not in stores or buildings, Holly trusts me to know what we’re doing, and where we’re going and to handle it. I trust Holly’s ability to know when I’m going into an attack, and to take control of the situation should I no longer be able to. We each have our jobs, each of us knows what our parts are.

She is not my pet, not just my dog, she is my partner. I am as much hers as she is mine. I trust her judgment, completely and without question. I would be dead many times over if she had not been around, I would have been run over, abducted, assaulted, hopelessly lost, suffocated, been so far gone that my mind would have been lost in a half world forever, if she had not had my back.

Where would I be if I had not backed up when she pulled me back from a street corner seconds before a fire engine raced past?
Or when she barked at the creepy man who was starting to get too close?
What would have happened had I not trusted her to take me home when a combined asthma and panic attack were close to making me pass out?
Or if she had not put herself between me and the friendly stranger I later found out to be a convicted child molester?

I’m so glad I’ll never find out.

Yes. My trust in her is absolute.

You may wonder where I’m going with this, and I’m well aware I’m starting to ramble, but I do have a point.

My point is that she trusts me just as much as I trust her.

I did not gain that trust by forcing her. She knows I will never drag, push, or prod her into doing anything. I accept that she has things she is uncomfortable with, just as she accepts the same, and more, for me.

This is as much a rant as a statement of my opinions. I’m so sickened at the lack of trust and bond between so many people and their dogs. This belief that you must dominate them, that they must listen to you and do exactly as you say because if they don’t they’re being knowingly disobedient. Words alone aren’t enough to describe dense and idiotic this is to me.

So, thank you to those of you who know your dog’s boundaries.

Happy training to all, and thanks if you’ve had the patience to read this massive post!

Holly wishes you all a fantastic day!

Until Later,

Kat, Holly & Brigantia