Fox Trotting With Dogs – Attaching commands to behaviors.

Imagine that you are having a bad dream. You are dressed in formal evening clothes and it is obvious that you are competing in a ballroom dance contest. When your number is called, you grasp your partner and glide out onto the floor — only to realize that you don’t know how to dance. As the music starts, your partner hisses at you through clinched teeth, “Fox-trot, you idiot!” and begins to dance. As the command to fox-trot fails to cause you to do the dance, your partner starts chanting the word “fox-trot” and tries to pull and tug you around the dance floor. Soon the crowd has realized your ignorance and wishes to help you by yelling, “FOX-TROT! FOX-TROT! FOX-TROT!”. This is obviously a vain hope that you will instantly be able to do what you don’t know how to do, merely because they are chanting the name of the dance. As you awaken from this nightmare you breathe a sigh of relief. Only in a nightmare is someone expected to learn and perform a complex behavior by being pulled and tugged while people are yelling unintelligible words at them – unless you are a dog. Continue reading

Sophie the Terrified Lab (Published in the IAACP “Safe Hands” Journal, fall, 2011.

Sophie is a real dog. I didn’t make her up as a composite of a bunch of dogs I’ve seen. She’s a four-year-old Labrador retriever. She was one of ten pups and lived exactly as they did. She wasn’t roughly handled or neglected. She wasn’t subjected to loud noises that weren’t also heard by the whole litter. She was cuddled, loved and handled as much and as little as the other pups. Her first owner was a man who wished Sophie to bond solely to him. He planned to make her a hunter. For the first months in his home, he was the only one who fed her. At about a year, she went to school to be a gun-dog. She handled everything just fine. She was trained with a remote collar and learned quickly. She wasn’t traumatized by the E-Collar and will happily do everything a flushing retriever is supposed to do. She is steady to wing and shot and won’t flush until told to do it. She gets the bird (or finds it if necessary) and makes a solid retrieve. In other words, she’s perfect in the field. That is obviously what she was bred to do. In virtually every way she’s the perfect hunter. What she isn’t, is a perfect pet. Continue reading