“Sit”…… click….. praise.
“Off”… click… pat.
So, the clicker training continues and I am learning that consistency is hard. I feel like my life has been overrun by sharp tinny noises and monosyllabic commands!
However much of a commitment this clicker training has been, my trusty pal has definitely developed a keen ear for the “click.” On walks he knows right where I keep it in my pocket and continually gazes up at it while prancing down the sidewalk. He knows that sooner or later he will do something “click worthy” and will get to enjoy a yummy reward.
And while I am overall pretty impressed with the progression of the clicker training, I am even more amazed at my attitude throughout the whole process. You see, while doing research on the clicker method, I came across a book called Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, by Alexandra Horowitz, and this book has changed my life.
One night, I came across a concept proposed by Horowitz that totally went against everything I thought I knew about dogs (and I read A LOT of dog books.) According to Alexandra and her research, you, as the owner (or adoptive parent, if you prefer) of your dog do not need to be the alpha of the pack!
photo by Erin Vey
In fact…there really isn’t a deep pack mentality engrained in most domestic dog breeds! She explains that because we, as humans, are not sure what to do with animals living among us, we assign these notions of packs and alphas to our living environments in an attempt to create order and organization in our lives. In other words, we are not doing it for the dogs, we are doing it for ourselves. Brilliant!
Now, I will be the first to admit that I was incredibly skeptical about this whole concept upon first read because I have been attributing all of my dogs naughty actions to the fact that he thinks he is “the alpha” for about 2 ½ years now (I am a big Dog Whisperer fan!)
But, what if…… what if……I was letting this “alpha business” get to me, essentially jading my view of the relationship that my dog and I really have? What if my stress and frustration surrounding my efforts at becoming “master” of my dog was actually damaging our relationsip? After reading these eye-opening pages, I started slowly (and somewhat skeptically) letting go of my “I always need to be in charge” mentality and started placing a little more trust in my dog.
I stopped nit-picking every little thing he did (getting too excited when another dog walked by, stopping too many times to lift his leg on walks, pulling ahead of me on the leash) and started giving him some of that freedom, while also asking for him to give me some respect in return.
I slowly began to realize that our walks became a kind of dance. He gets a little out of line, I calm him down, ask him to sit, reward him with a treat (and click of course!) and let him spend some additional time sniffing next to the mailbox. It is a compromise, not a power struggle!
I have started to realize that trying to control all of his actions (while trying to be the alpha) was stressing me out and setting me up for failed expectations. He could sense that (as our dogs are truly are mirrors of our emotions) and would, in turn, become more agitated and rebellious on our walks. An endless, negative cycle.
Now, I am not saying that we are a perfect pair that will ride (or walk) off into the sunset with never a problem to deal with, or that I will totally discount all that I have learned from the great Cesar Millan, but I am learning to be more open minded with how I communicate with my dog.
What he and I have is a companionship, not a contest.
Please post your stories (and challenges!) of raising your dog to be a happy, healthy companion.