Dog’s Eye View: Missing puzzle pieces
August 24, 2018
Being an aspiring "Behavior Geek" I'm always on the look out for how an individual behavior or relationship started and what keeps it going. The "keeps it going" part has everything to do with how the behavior has been reinforced. My mind wants to know how and why? If the dog's performance has a detrimental effect on the teamwork, how did it happen? What makes it continue? How has this behavior affected other aspects of the relationship?
Those of us who participate in various dog sports know that nothing happens without a great rapport with your dog. Is that ever true. Many times, we take the bond for granted. I feed him and walk him, and we practice several times a week for our sport. Of course, he should always work for me.
Is that enough to build a great performance? Even great marriages take continuous work and reinforcement. I'll stress reinforcement here. When things pop up, we talk them out. With our dog, the conversation is often one sided. If he doesn't do it the first time, we talk louder, if he still doesn't listen start yelling. Then, what began as something that should be fun, turns into a full-blown conflict. So, what do we do about that? There's a saying that often comes to mind: "You can't keep doing what you just did and expecting a different result." Practicing the same mistake over and over doesn't make it better. It reinforces or intensifies the error. Oh no, now what?
Let's use puzzle pieces to sort this out. When I start a new puzzle, the first thing I do is sort out all the edge pieces. If we think of this as building a relationship or partnership, it must start with communication and engagement. We both need to want to be together. With that developing I have the foundation for the puzzle. Then, depending on the content of the puzzle, I sort out various colors or parts of the picture. Let's say this part combines all the daily aspects of management, exercise, play time and training. These are all parts and pieces of the total picture. When any one component starts breaking down, then we are missing pieces of the puzzle.
If you are struggling to put a part of the puzzle together, you don't put the whole thing back in the box and start over. You sort out that segment carefully, make a change, then come back and tackle it again. For some of our dog sports, the task is staying on course, following specific cue's and maintaining engagement and teamwork.
With my little terrier mix, Ruby, our challenge in canine nose work is keeping her focused on finding the scent I'm asking her to seek out. She considers herself a multitasker. And so far, if I give her a moment to check something out, she's happy to get back to the task at hand and she finds the scent. She'll probably get faster at this as she matures, so I don't want to put so much pressure on speed that she decides scent work is not so much fun. I work on setting up some specific fun drills, then I will build the speed I want to train. Having started this, I need to set up speed drills for me to keep up with her. Once she's on scent she turns on the speed and I have to run to keep up with her.
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Whether you like teaching tricks or participate in a dog sport, keep your puzzle pieces sorted out and always remember nothing happens without a foundation built on communication and teamwork. If you are struggling with some aspect of your relationship or your dog's performance stop doing what you are doing. It won't get better by doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Take a break. Sort out those pieces of the training/relationship puzzle. Remember the fun factor and get to work. Getting that last piece in place is a great accomplishment.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 30 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants as well as certified nose work instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.