I have found that it is very difficult to write a blog post when you don’t have a computer. My friend let me borrow hers today so that I could say hello to you all real quick (thank you Sarah!) My homeowners insurance says that I can expect to have a new laptop by next week, however, so the posts will pick up again soon! That being said, tomorrow is our last training session with the Delta Society, and as I realized that, I remembered that I still have to update you on session #3 – with everything that happened last week, I completely forgot! So sorry!
The main thing that we focused on last week was what the trainers like to call "Leadership 101" - or, how to train and talk to your dog so that she listens and obeys. The trainer reminded us that there is a difference between cues and commands - at this point, we are giving our dogs cues. Karen Pryor describes this best:
It is important to understand the difference between a cue and a command. A command implies a threat: "Do it or I will make you." A command is given before the behavior is learned, and it can be enforced if the dog does not comply. A cue is completely different from a command because there is no threat implied with a cue. A cue is like a green light that tells the dog that now is the time to execute a behavior for the chance of reinforcement – the trainer does not assume that the dog is intentionally misbehaving. The clearer the association is between the cue and the action, the better the dog will learn the cue. Training cues rather than commands produces a dog that can be counted on even in very difficult situations.
We were also reminded to watch for signs of stress in our dogs while working in a therapeutic setting (or really just any ol’ time). Common signs of stress include: panting and salivating, pacing, licking the lips, dilated pupils, trembling, shaking, yawning, whining, growling when approached to be handled, sweaty paw pads, turning away or avoiding eye contact, loss of appetite, hiding behind the handler, etc. Though these are common signs of stress, different dogs may exhibit different behaviors. For instance, I’ve found that Claire avoids eye contact, turns away, and pants when she is stressed. If I give her a cue and she does not respond, but I notice that she is showing me those signs/symptoms, I need to stop what we’re doing and give her a break. It isn’t that she is disobeying me; she is just communicating her needs.
Training with the Delta Society has less of a focus on behavior modification and more of a focus on promoting good communication between the dog and the handler. When you can communicate effectively with your dog, your dog will begin to change her behavior because she understands what you are asking and what you want her to do. Not only is the cue important –your tone of voice you and body language is also important. Over the last few weeks of training with the Delta Society, I have seen a big change in Claire, in me, and in the way we communicate. We understand each other better. So, if May 22nd comes and Claire and I don’t pass the test, it will be alright. We have gotten so much more out of this training.