Friday, April 22, 2016

Why your dog is being stubborn

Different Training Styles

"He is just so stubborn!" The owner of the dog looked annoyed and exasperated as she jerked the martingale that tightened on her white Border Collie type dog's throat.  We were doing the "Stand" exercise.  The dog kept lying down or trying to wander away. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk. The medium sized, well cared for dog's ears were laid back. His tail tucked neatly downward and under his butt.  "Stand" The white dog yawned and looked at Earl.  The dark, middle aged woman who held the leather leash barked "Leave it" before she yanked the collar up again.  The young dog turned to her, and slightly wagging his tail, gently gnawed on his mistress's hand.

On the other side of the room, a beautiful and large doberman pup wearing a pinch collar lunges up and playfully grabs his owner by the arm.  The young female owner flailed and pulled his collar up until he subsided in his attempts to interact with her. Subdued, the dog sat, and was met by another upward pull on the collar.

Earl and I were attending a competition obedience class to polish our performance skills, but mostly just for fun.  The class is well attended and well taught by a knowledgeable and friendly instructor.  It is interesting to see the disciplines of each dog/handler team, which vary widely, from me with my clicker, to others who rely on old school corrections and rewards as they teach their dogs.

On my way home, I pass a local trainer has a Newfoundland Dog pinned to the ground with one hand as she yanks upward on a pinch collar around the dog's neck.  The young dog is looking confused and frightened and tries to escape as the young woman gives a solid yank up on the collar, glaring at the dog that is clearly wants to get away and is stubbornly not submitting to her


Is your dog really being stubborn?

When you are training a dog (any dog) the dog has no idea what you want from him.  The dog is not out to dominate you.  The dog could care less about who the Alpha is.  He just wants to check out a smell, find something to eat, run down the street, roll in dead salmon, have a drink, etc.  When we are training a dog, we are always communicating with a member of a foreign species, that will either happily try to figure out what we want, or will become so frustrated by failure and ensuing yanks and displeasure he won't want to play with us anymore.  If he doesn't want to play with us anymore during a training session, we have to ask ourselves what the reason for this is. Effective communication is necessary to have a dog that  learns quickly and well.

Some of the reasons your dog is blowing you off

    English Pointer and German Shorthaired Pointer sitting
  1. Physical causes: The dog has a physical need that is overriding his desire to work with you.  He is thirsty, he needs to pee (in some dogs this is triggered by the presence of another dog). Physical ailments or parasites are very distracting to dogs. 
  2. You didn't take your dog for a run before training.
  3. You are expecting too much, too soon from your dog.  Your dog is an ESL student that doesn't have a verbal language.  Remember this.
  4. You are not giving your dog adequate clues to what you want the end behaviour to be.
  5. The context of the cue has changed for the dog.  This means you are perhaps standing in a different position, using a different hand for a visual signal, you are sitting instead of standing, etc.  Slight changes such as these need to be introduced gradually with many dogs.  
  6. The dog is afraid of you or something else in the environment.  Just taking him out of the environment for a few moments to give him a break will often be enough that he will be able to focus.
  7. Your training session has gone into overkill and he is mentally exhausted from trying to figure out what exactly you want from him.  Keep training sessions short and frequent.  Several 2 to 5 minute sessions staged throughout the day instead of one long one will help to keep him motivated and eagerly wanting to work with you.  
  8. You are not as entertaining as the environment. Start training a new behaviour in a familiar environment and add distractions slowly.  
  9. Your reward timing is confusing the dog.  Rewards have to happen immediately within a second of the behaviour you want occurring.  Rewards should be very frequent at first. Pair the food reward with praise, and your dog will learn that praise means awesomeness.
  10. Equipment:  Is it distracting to a dog to have discomfort during a training session?  You bet it is!  A tight collar, pinch/prong collar, electronic collar, or even a head halter or poorly fitted body harness can be uncomfortable and very distracting for your dog.  Jerking and tugging on said equipment is even more distracting and can make your dog want to leave the session entirely or sometimes fight to get away from you.  If you are using a pinch collar, try changing your equipment to something more comfortable for the dog.  Discomfort is distracting and not conducive to quick learning. If you choose a head halter, use the recommended  training process to get your dog used to wearing it before attempting to train using it. Use tiny bits of roasted meat in your  training pouch. 
If our dogs are being stubborn, it is time to take a break from training and ask ourselves if there is anything that we can do to make the training process more conducive to learning for the dog.   Until we do this assessment, we can't depend on the dog to learn.