Clearing the Plate - Originally published May, 2011
Chin up, shoulder’s back, eyes forward, hands at eye level, elbows down. Remember which foot steps first. With so many things to consider before the music even starts, is it any wonder why people find ballroom dancing confusing? Now, think about walking a dog. Don’t pull, lag, bark, run, wander, or sniff! There’s just too much on the plate. Many people just throw up their hands and clip on a retractable leash, which by its very design rewards all the undesirable walking behaviors.
Our plate is always full of things we don’t want our dogs to do. And what we do want our dogs to do, frequently goes against canine instinct. We want our dogs to walk at our side, sit for extended periods of time, have eye contact with us and walk in a straight line. So, when we ask our dogs to stop acting according to their nature, it confuses them and they resort to the next natural behavior on their list, which frequently is equally displeasing. This forces dogs and owners to play a frustrating game of "what CAN I do?"
Focusing on just one behavior at a time can make life easier and clearer for everyone. It takes away the burden of being hyper vigilant. This can work for desired and undesired behaviors. Focus on the behavior that is the most important or frustrating. If pulling on the leash is the behavior that ruins a walk, then focus only on rewarding for walking at your side. Don’t worry about lagging behind or sniffing or barking at this time. Work on those behaviors after the pulling has been solved. Be aware that controlling behavior with management tools only works when the tools are in place, and doesn’t solve the problem. Once the tool is removed, the behavior returns.
Often, training one desired behavior can eliminate other unwanted behaviors. In dog trainer lingo, it’s called "creating an incompatible behavior." For example, teaching dogs to walk at your side means that by default the dog is not running ahead, lagging behind, or wandering. Teaching dogs to go to their bed when the doorbell rings solves jumping up to greet people, rushing out the door, and uncontrolled barking at the door. Training just one behavior has solved several other problems.
When bad behaviors become overwhelming, clear the plate. Picture the one thing you want the dog to do in the situation, rather than what you don’t want the dog to do. If you need help with either creating or implementing your vision, contact The Collaborative Dog and we’ll come up with a solution that’s rewarding for everyone.