14th: Turn not your back to others especially in speaking; jog not the table or desk on which another reads or writes; lean not upon any one.
The Other End of the Leash
"SIT!" "SIT DOWN!" "SHEILA, SIT DOWN!"
6 September 2004
I'm really enjoying "The Other End of the Leash."
Animal behavior has always fascinated me and so I'm eating up this book on animal behavior--specifically, the difference between primate behavior (that would be apes and humans) and canine behavior (dogs and wolves), and how you can get the two to communicate with each other.
I once did a lot of typing for an animal behaviorist who was getting her PhD at UC Davis. I typed her very lengthy thesis for her and learned a lot about training. It all made wonderful sense to me at the time (though I wasn't working with a dog at the time). I was so impressed by what she said, in her thesis, would be the result if you did A,B,C and how the dog would respond with A,B,C.
She gave detailed instructions for how to use intermittent rewards to prevent a dog from barking, from destroying furniture, from doing a lot of the behaviors that cause people to throw their hands up in despair and return the dogs to the shelter. (The theory is the same that casino owners use in keeping humans pulling those handles on slot machines...If they lose all the time, or win all the time, they'll eventually lose interest, but if you reward them sporadically and they'll keep pulling the handles for a longer time, hoping that the next pull will yield the big reward.)
I was impressed with how effortless it seemed to be, if you were consistent with the training. I was impressed, that is, until the fateful day that I drove to Berkeley to deliver the last draft of her thesis to her. She opened the door with a huge dog who was quite active, quite aggressive, and not the least obedient.
When I pointed out the contradiction in her own dog's behavior and her thesis, she said she'd been too busy learning animal behavior and writing about it to actually put it into practice with her own dog!
However, Patricia McConnell, the author of "The Other End of the Leash" seems to make a lot of sense--and she uses examples of her own dogs and how she struggled with her own innate primate behavior, trying to train herself to "speak canine."
That's really what it's all about. It's like having a non-English speaking Brasilian in the house. You have to use simple, consistent vocabularly. You can't say "would you like to have dinner?" one day and "let's eat" the next and expect someone who has never heard English to realize that both mean the same thing.
So I'm trying to decide what words I need to use as commands for Sheila. McConnell points out that we humans tend to go through a repertoire of words when the dog doesn't immediately respond. If she doesn't sit when you say sit, you may say "sit down," or then add her name, "Sheila, sit down." For the dog, that means three different commands and she may get confused trying to figure out what you mean. So I'm working at becoming more monosyllabic.
I'm also trying to learn to use accompanying body language with commands, since dogs are more attuned to body language than they are to speech.
Ned was telling me that when they were working with their pugs, they used a clenched fist, held above the dog's head as the signal for "sit." So I've been doing that. Now Sheila will sit when I raise a clenched fist out in front of me, whether I say "sit" or not.
McConnell says that if you are going to be "top dog," you have to act like the top dog. For example, if the dog wants anything, she has to earn it. At the moment, Sheila really only consistently knows how to sit, so whenever she wants anything--a treat, a meal, a toy tossed, to get her leash put on--anything--she has to sit first. She's got this so firmly imbedded in her head that when I get her food dish and take it to the kitchen to fill it, she fairly flies out of the kitchen into the family room and sits, waiting patiently - well, patiently for Sheila -for me to bring her dinner to her.
We've gone round and round with the constant toy-toss game. It gets very old. She gets a toy, she brings it to me while I'm watching television, I try to take it and she makes a game of keeping it away from me. I don't really want to throw it in the first place and now I'm engaged in a tug-of-war with a toy covered in dog drool. Eventually I'm able to trick her into giving it up and then I throw it for her, she brings it back, and we start it all over again.
We've changed that. Now she brings a toy and she has to sit before I'll throw it for her. This means that she brings the toy and leaves it by my arm and sits. Much more fun for me. It has the added advantage that after 3 or 4 of these interactions, she decides she'd rather play by herself, and I can go back to watching television.
I've also started using a beckoning motion when I ask her to come. Yesterday Shelly stopped by to return my laptop, which she took with her to Yellowstone. She was telling me about her trip and the fantastic animal encounters she had and Sheila was starting to walk over and beg Shelly for attention. I didn't say anything, but gave Sheila a beckoning signal and she came right over to me.
This won't work in the dog park, of course, but we're starting to learn each other's language and I feel we're on our way to a much more mutually satisfying relationship.
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