Try This Bond-Based Train­ing Ap­proach!

This bond-based train­ing ap­proach can pow­er­fully change the way you con­nect with your dog

Modern Dog - - FRONT PAGE - By Jen­nifer Arnold

Sev­eral years ago, I be­gan study­ing how to help ease the anx­i­ety I saw in so many dogs, even those trained us­ing pos­i­tive meth­ods. These stud­ies, along with my work as the Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor of Ca­nine As­sis­tants, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion which trains and pro­vides ser­vice dogs for chil­dren and adults with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties or other spe­cial needs, led me to an un­ex­pected and in some ways un­wanted epiphany. To be hon­est, my life would have been far sim­pler with­out it. It ne­ces­si­tated a change in ap­proach that flew in the face of many of dog train­ing’s most sa­cred meth­ods. But this par­tic­u­lar idea was worth the trou­ble. It sim­ply changes ev­ery­thing for dogs and the peo­ple who love them.

It turns out that we’ve been ap­proach­ing life with dogs

up­side down. We’ve op­er­ated un­der the as­sump­tion that a well-man­nered dog is a happy, se­cure dog. But that’s back­wards. In fact, a happy, se­cure dog be­comes a well­man­nered dog. We’ve been focusing on what a dog does rather than how a dog feels. When dogs feel se­cure and loved, prob­lem be­hav­iours are largely elim­i­nated. The need for us to di­rect our dogs’ actions be­comes dra­mat­i­cally re­duced.

Prior to chang­ing my teach­ing method, I’d ob­serve dogs jump­ing or mouthing or ex­hibit­ing fran­tic be­hav­iour in an ef­fort to be re­as­sured; now uti­liz­ing a bond-based ap­proach, I see these same dogs walk be­side their peo­ple vol­un­tar­ily, match­ing them stride for stride. These dogs can now im­i­tate actions af­ter a sin­gle demon­stra­tion, in­stinc­tively har­mo­niz­ing with the en­ergy and ac­tiv­ity lev­els of their peo­ple. I’ve seen our ser­vice dogs, ed­u­cated with bond-based teach­ing, per­form feats in­dica­tive of as­ton­ish­ing cog­ni­tive prow­ess, such as

count­ing ob­jects, rec­og­niz­ing colours, in­di­cat­ing let­ters in or­der to spell sim­ple words, fast-map­ping to learn new words, dis­crim­i­nat­ing be­tween yes and no, large and small, up and down, and much more. This trans­for­ma­tion is pos­si­ble for all dogs—be they work­ing as­sis­tants or beloved com­pan­ions. I was so moved by what I was wit­ness­ing that I was com­pelled to write a book, Love

Is All You Need: The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Bond-Based Ap­proach to Ed­u­cat­ing Your Dog, out­lin­ing these prin­ci­ples, and now I want to spread the word. Here are seven key tips to get you started with bond-based teach­ing and trans­form your re­la­tion­ship with your dog!

# 1 Put your re­la­tion­ship first.

Dogs, like peo­ple, are highly so­cial. For so­cial an­i­mals, re­la­tion­ships wield enor­mous power. If your dog has a great re­la­tion­ship with you, it gives him all the mo­ti­va­tion he needs to make you happy. Re­mem­ber, a good con­nec­tion is re­cip­ro­cal, al­low­ing both par­ties some mea­sure of con­trol. For ex­am­ple, the ef­fects of a re­cip­ro­cal con­nec­tion or lack thereof are quite ob­vi­ous when walk­ing your dog on leash. When one of you is drag­ging the other, the walk be­comes ar­du­ous, some­times even gru­el­ing. But when you and your dog are in sync, the walk be­comes ef­fort­less and en­joy­able. The dif­fer­ence is so dra­matic that I cre­ated a leash that al­lows you to hold one end while your dog holds the other, giv­ing both a feel­ing of con­nec­tion and con­trol. Think of leash-walk­ing as a mi­cro­cosm of ev­ery­day life with your dog. Be­cause dogs must func­tion in our hu­man world, the lead­er­ship role falls pri­mar­ily to us, but that doesn’t mean we should act as dic­ta­tors. Our great­est in­flu­ence comes from con­nec­tion, not di­rec­tion.

2 # Seek to un­der­stand your dog.

In any good re­la­tion­ship, em­pa­thetic un­der­stand­ing is crit­i­cal. Your dog al­ready spends a great deal of time try­ing to un­der­stand you, an­a­lyz­ing your habits, moods, and pref­er­ences. Do your dog the same cour­tesy: learn as much as you can about dogs in gen­eral. What colours can they see? How does their amaz­ing sense of smell work? What emo­tions do they ap­pear to ex­pe­ri­ence? Study your dog to learn as much about him as you can. What does he like to eat? What games does he en­joy? Is he a laid-back couch po­tato or a high-en­ergy herder? What are his great­est fears? To know is un­doubt­edly to love—some­thing he likely fig­ured out about you long ago.

# 3 Look with eyes of love.

Your per­spec­tive de­ter­mines your re­sponse to things that hap­pen. If you be­lieve that your dog gets an­gry when left alone in the house and seeks re­venge by shred­ding your pa­per tow­els, you’re bound to get an­gry in re­turn. Un­doubt­edly, you would be more sym­pa­thetic if you re­al­ized that dogs who do “naughty” things while you are away, such as shred­ding pa­per tow­els, are likely do­ing so as a way of cop­ing with the fact that they miss you. Re­mem­ber that his very life de­pends upon you tak­ing care of him. He would never do any­thing just to anger or frus­trate you. If he does up­set you, do all in your power to see the sit­u­a­tion through his eyes, those same eyes that view you with such ado­ra­tion.

# 4 Help your dog learn to trust you.

Stud­ies have shown that dogs de­velop at­tach­ment pat­terns to their pri­mary care­givers sim­i­lar to those ex­pe­ri­enced by pre­ver­bal chil­dren. It is crit­i­cal that your dog’s at­tach­ment to you be a se­cure one. Dogs who have se­cure at­tach­ments to their peo­ple are far less likely to dis­play prob­lem be­hav­iours rooted in anx­i­ety than their less se­cure coun­ter­parts. You can se­cure your dog’s at­tach­ment to you by re­spond­ing con­sis­tently to his needs and never mak­ing him feel that he has to earn your love or car­ing. If he asks for your at­ten­tion or af­fec­tion, give it to him. Give him treats as “I love you and will al­ways care for you” gifts rather than as re­wards for his com­pli­ance to your di­rec­tives.

# 5 Stop train­ing your dog.

Cur­rent ap­proaches to train­ing dogs, in­clud­ing pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment, pro­mote a sense of con­di­tional af­fec­tion— I love you if you do as I say,

or I will feed you when you please me. This is some­thing that can badly dam­age your dog’s trust in you and in him­self, cre­at­ing a vi­cious cy­cle. Dam­aged trust re­sults in in­creased anx­i­ety that in­creases the like­li­hood of prob­lem be­hav­iours. These prob­lem be­hav­iours may be linked to a de­sire to se­cure your con­nec­tion or care­giv­ing (think mouthing, jump­ing, and sub­mis­sive uri­na­tion), a need to ex­ert greater con­trol over his en­vi­ron­ment (such as re­ac­tiv­ity or stalling on leash), or an ef­fort to cope with stress (such as pa­per shred­ding, com­pul­sive chew­ing or ex­ces­sive bark­ing). With most train­ing meth­ods, the sug­gested so­lu­tions to these prob­lem be­hav­iours in­volve in­creas­ing your con­trol over your dog, thus start­ing the cy­cle again.

# 6 Help your dog learn.

Learn­ing can be a so­cial, in­ter­nally mo­ti­vated process as hap­pens when a dog dis­cov­ers that sit­ting when his per­son sits helps keep his group in sync and makes his per­son happy. In­ter­nally mo­ti­vated learn­ing is far bet­ter over­all for dogs, al­low­ing them to de­velop a strong bond with their teach­ers and ex­ert a mea­sure of con­trol over their en­vi­ron­ment, nec­es­sary for men­tal well­be­ing. In­ter­nally mo­ti­vated learn­ing in dogs is also bet­ter for us as it re­quires less vig­i­lance and al­lows our dogs greater flex­i­bil­ity in un­der­stand­ing what con­sti­tutes ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour. A dog who knows how to sit when cued re­quires more di­rec­tion and man­age­ment than does a dog who fig­ures out that it is best to be still and quiet when his per­son is still and quiet. Give your dog the chance to learn to di­rect his own be­hav­iour by al­low­ing him to watch and syn­chro­nize with you and he will do so ap­pro­pri­ately the vast ma­jor­ity of the time. And, dogs trusted to self-di­rect are more likely to com­ply when you do have to re­quest a par­tic­u­lar be­hav­iour.

# 7 Al­low Your Dog to As­ton­ish You.

Cog­ni­tion is the ac­qui­si­tion of knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing as the re­sult of men­tal pro­cesses such as mem­ory, thought, plan­ning, and per­cep­tion. Thanks to the many ca­nine cog­ni­tion cen­ters now open at pres­ti­gious univer­si­ties world­wide, we know that dogs are ca­pa­ble of rel­a­tively com­plex cog­ni­tion. Can your dog learn to an­swer yes or no ques­tions? Can he dis­tin­guish be­tween yel­low and blue? Can he copy your actions when asked? Can he sniff out a treat or toy you’ve hid­den? Ask him. Teach him that touch­ing your left hand in­di­cates yes and your right hand in­di­cates no. Show him some­thing in yel­low as you say, “yel­low” and like­wise with blue. Demon­strate a sim­ple ac­tion and ask your dog to do like me. Hide his kib­ble or toys around the house or fenced yard and al­low him to fol­low his nose. We’ve been so fo­cused on telling our dogs what to do that we’ve for­got­ten to ask them what they are ca­pa­ble of do­ing. The an­swer may well as­ton­ish you! Liv­ing with and lov­ing dogs can and should be a pleasure. There is cer­tainly no need for fear, force, or con­di­tional af­fec­tion. All of those are coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to what is most es­sen­tial: your re­la­tion­ship with your dog. And as in any re­la­tion­ship, the bond is the key ele­ment. The way to achieve a bond beyond mea­sure is quite sim­ple: love is all you need!

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