Friday, November 26, 2010

Proactive vs Punitive (Repost)

This post was originally posted on November 28th, 2008 - but I recently had the occasion to think about the problem again - and decided to re-post the entry in its entirety. I'll post an update under separate cover...

I responded to a thread on one of the golden lists I subscribe to and it gave me a really good "buzz phrase" that I really like - it goes along with my theory and methods of training my dogs. There is a bit of background to this story so I'll give you the sequence of events.
The list member has a young dog (20 months or so), he has his CD and had two CDX legs - she's really been pushing him pretty hard and seems to be more proud of that he's gotten these accomplishments at a young age than she is about the titles. Which is weird and I think a novice mistake - it'll eventually bite you in the ass - it's just a matter of time. The first post was a month ago, her dog went around the high jump in training (instead of jumping back over with the dumbbell). Her correction at that time was to go to him, scruff him and really physically correct while scolding him.
Anyone who knows me knows this isn't my cup of tea - I'm not a purely positive trainer but I'm not physical with my dogs and I make darn sure that if I am going to fix something I'm careful to make sure my dogs understand what it was that I didn't like. The net result with this woman's correction was that her dog developed a fear of the dumbbell - didn't want ANYTHING to do with it. She had another show going for her third CDX leg the following weekend and wanted a magic fix for the problem. The consensus was that she needed to back way up and reintroduce the dumbbell as if it were a new thing and that she should probably scratch the trial that weekend. She did some pinch work and eventually got the dog to pick up the dumbbell, went to the show and eeked out a qualifying score.
The most recent post had to do with a practice session where her dog left her on the directed jumping exercise to go visit dogs outside the ring, played through the ring gating, then jumped over the ring gating to play with the other dogs. Her correction for this was to go outside the ring, grab her dog and do another scruff shake and yell at him. The context for this post was basically "he jumped the ring gating - I don't want him to do that when we trial" and "how do I teach him not to jump the ring gating - I wish it had fallen over and scared him". You wanted him to be scared by ring gating?
There were some people who responded with "wow, your dog is really pretty" or "he was just trying to make friends". My feeling was basically that she dropped the ball and corrected her dog unfairly AND at the wrong time. She could have called him after he took the jump, stated to lose attention, when he started running towards the gating or she could have called him as he was greeting the other dogs (before he jumped the gating). She didn't say anything to him until he was outside the ring and when she did she grabbed him and punished him. So what does a dog think in this situation - was he corrected for losing attention? Was he corrected for greeting and playing with other dogs? Or was he corrected for allowing his mom to approach him? Hummm - me thinks it might be the latter.
My first thought was "why the hell is she using physical corrections again when she knows that shuts her dog down". And then it was "wow, she really turned a proofing opportunity into a really negative thing". My point here was that she had missed the window to fix the problem before it escalated. There was a huge window of time where presumably she just stood in the ring watching her dog make a series of mistakes and didn't intervene. She didn't call him - she watched him make the mistakes and didn't take any action. Because she didn't act and his small mistake (going off-course) became a bigger mistake (greeting the other dogs) and then a bigger mistake again (jumping the gating) she overreacted and made an unfair correction.
My phrase in my advice to her was to be proactive, not punitive. It should have been training! She was practicing not training - maybe standing there like a stump is one way to handle that situation in the competition ring - it's not the way to handle that in a drop-in TRAINING session - or in a match. Honestly I'd fix it in the obedience ring too and take the "training in the ring" excusal, but the other part of this is proofing! I take every opportunity to proof for stuff like that when I'm training. I'll put Teller in stays next to a bitch in season, I'll ask him to heel past dogs he played with the day (or hour) before. I also work very hard to be more fun to work (play) with than another dog. Another dog can't tell him he's a superstar or play the hand-touch game - I can and I do. It's not all about the cookies - they don't come into the ring. It's understanding what the task is at hand and wanting to play the game - in training and in practice!
Anyhow, this is what I chewed on all day today. Be proactive not punitive, train more and practice less - and of course train, don't complain!
Pro-ac-tive: adjective serving to prepare for, intervene in, or control an expected occurrence or situation, esp. a negative or difficult one; anticipatory:
Pu⋅nitive: adjective serving for, concerned with, or inflicting punishment
I think it's hard sometimes to see our dogs objectively - to know what is an honest mistake and know when they're being goofy dogs - either way our dogs do not choose to do these sports with us, it's something we ask them to do for us. It's our job to be "on" 100% of the time - to pay attention to what we are doing when we're working with our dogs - to hold up our end of the bargain. To that end (and because today is Thanksgiving) I am thankful for my dogs - how much of the time they go above and beyond what I ask of them. Thankful that they give me another chance when I screw up and thankful that they keep me warm on COLD winter nights. And I'd be SO VERY thankful if they learned how to vacuum and work the buttons on the washing machine - but I know that's pretty unrealistic!
Anyhow, that's the original post - my update tomorrow.


Kristine said...

Thanks for re-posting this. The woman's behaviour kind of surprises me. How did she expect her dog to know what he was doing wrong if she didn't make it clear what the right behaviour is? I guess what is more surprising, is that others on the list didn't call her on it, or write anything close to what you did. Perhaps they were scared of offending?

Either way, I guess the point isn't to judge, the point is to learn from this woman's mistakes. While I do try to use primarily positive methods in my training, I could probably stand to be more proactive, especially in the agility ring.

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