Sunday, May 29, 2011

Focus on the positive. It's not just for clicker training!

Sometimes, when you own a "problem" dog, you begin to focus on the negatives. This is also the foundation of training methods which use aversive techniques. You hone in on everything the dog is doing wrong and take for granted everything the dog is doing right.

For example:
Olive barks at the neighbours when she is out in the yard.
She tried to lunge at that bicyclist who just rode by.
She is object guarding her chew bone.
She just seems to dislike that one friend of ours that comes by sometimes.

It is a downward spiral of negativity.
I have to admit, I am feeling that way today and it is hard to not take her behaviour personally (as silly as it seems).

Olive at 1 year, May 2011

But I had an idea. Imagine if instead of focusing on what she can't do I focused on what she CAN do.

Olive CAN leave pizza on a plate right in front of her nose if you say "leave it".
She CAN sit quietly on her cushion in the living room while I watch a two hour movie.
She CAN come immediately when called from outside, even when she has begun to bark at something/someone, or she is having a fun play session with another dog.
She CAN bring me her bone from across the room and drop it in front of me when asked to (even though she doesn't really want to).
She CAN drop a prized stolen possession on the floor when you say "drop it".
She CAN walk away from an aggressive dog who is trying to pick a fight with her.
She CAN go eagerly into her crate when you say "kennel".
She CAN remain in a down-stay position in the yard while I walk out of site.
She CAN do lots of cute tricks.
She CAN refrain from chewing an entire rack of shoes  left out by the front door.
She CAN make me laugh like crazy when she tries to crawl under my arms and lick my face while I am doing my nightly push-ups.
She CAN look me in the eyes when asked to "look", even when she is near something scary out on a walk.
She  CAN go off-leash at the park when we play frisbee, with no worry of her leaving the field.
She CAN be relied upon to always follow me when I run away from her.
She CAN walk reasonably nicely on-leash and is getting better every day.
She CAN close her mouth the instant you tell her to, even if you are tickling her toes and she wants to chew on you.
She CAN touch a "scary" person's hand with her nose, when given the "touch" command.

      Look at the size of that list! And it doesn't even cover the basics.
See, already I feel so much better about my dog. I can notice several things on my list which are very challenging and I can take pride in the fact that I never used force or aversive punishments to shape the behavior I wanted. Perfect examples of this are "leave it" and "drop it", which are pretty tough ones, since the dog has to practice self restraint in the face of something they really want.
       I can look at that list and see how far Olive has come in a year. Almost one year ago, she was a naughty little puppy... peeing in the house and chewing up slippers if you didn't watch her 24-7. She was so shy that she would submissive pee every time you tried to introduce her to a new person and even with friends she already knew. Now she is a lovely, obedient dog, albeit still shy with strangers, but we're working on it.
        If she could come this far in one year, I can't wait to see her after another year of training together.

Olive at 10 weeks, June 2010

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