Random training thoughts
This is long. Perhaps it is a form of mid-dog's-life training crisis.
I bought Renji an e-collar and have had just a few sessions with it so far. I am using Lou Castle's protocol for working with the e-collar but am also adding in food/positive rewards. I want to be one of those trainers to avoid the use of positive punishment whenever possible. If a killer whale can be trained with food and tongue scritches and belly rubs, surely a dog can as well. At the same time, dogs do get exposed to so much more as a result of living with us rather than living in a controlled enclosure. An orca may choose not to perform and hey, that's perfectly fine, we'll draw your blood another day because we're not arguing when you weigh 3000 lbs more than we. If a dog chooses not to obey, he could end up under a car, in the teeth of a larger dog, or being that larger dog to a much smaller one. As I experience more with Renji and read of the experiences of others, either on these forums or in books by professionals, my thoughts and opinions on training have changed and, I think, still are changing. Much of this is prompted by me getting the e-collar and also now reading Kathy Sdao's "Plenty in Life is Free."
We do practice a flavor of NILIF at my house. Over time, I have come to terms with the fact that my dog shouldn't have to ask for everything or shouldn't have to work for everything. He can come up to me and get petted and usually dogs. I can likewise ask him to come over if I want to pet him. He is welcome to come over and shove a ball in my face. He must understand though that sometimes I will oblige and other times I will shoo him away. Although, if he is initiating play, that is an indication to me that I am not doing MY job of fulfilling his needs and making sure he's mentally stimulated and physically tired. It is not an indicator that I am slacking on NILIF or that I should even be worried about it.
Sdao's book is an eye-opener so far as well as the experiences of board members here. To name a few, Melanie (Queen of the Chows), Jamie (and her adorable Risa and all their hard work), Packen (lather, rinse, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat), Catu (quality > quantity), Anne Kent (trust the dog), MRL (EXERCISE and TRAIN x a bazillion), I could go on and on. While I don't necessarily agree with tossing NILIF completely out, I do believe it should not be the basis of everything. I think Renji and I have had our best times when we spent a lot of time together on walks, bike rides, hikes, training class, trips to DQ and less time ordering him around or correcting him for forging ahead. All of you out there who practice "Look At That," click to calm, take your dogs everywhere possible and work on sits and downs everywhere possible 8000 times over, you all have it right. I am afraid of Renji's reactions because he has given me reason to fear but it has stopped me from taking him places which hasn't done much of anything to fix him. I finally stopped making a big deal of people coming over and we're now at a point where he sees people coming over either as a non-issue or another ball-tossing machine. I'm getting more progress by letting go and being positive than by cranking down with demands that he sit to get everything.
Back to the e-collar. The e-collar allows me to give Renji very clear, very precise, very consistent, and very well timed communication. A leash jerk can be soft on the first tug, hard on the second, and somewhere in between on the third not for any reason other than the length of the leash is dynamic. A well fitted, functional e-collar is consistent. My timing is excellent with the clicker, poor with the leash, excellent with the e-collar. Clearly I am a button-person. I have added in treats for correct responses and so far am getting very snappy compliance and the look on Renji's face says "Oh okay, I understand what you want!" There is absolutely no pain; sometimes I'm not even sure he is feeling the stimulation even though he is definitely responding. But I still have my doubts about training like this; I feel I am using it because I just wasn't good enough or didn't work hard enough on other methods. My plan is to continue on with the collar training and evaluate the results during and after training. My biggest hope is for us both to gain control over his worst tendencies.
From now on, however, I will be making a concerted effort to get Renji out more. He is not comfortable with outings but the more he experiences them, the less novel and threatening and uncomfortable they will be. I resolve to rain food from the sky when we come across his triggers. We will find other dogs and other dog/handler teams to work with. I will get him around more people. I will tape the clicker to my body and affix a treat bag to my belt. We will desensitize, I will find better means to communicate than a leash correction, I will work on training more incompatible behaviors, I will be more consistent, but the dictatorship is at an end. We will have a partnership. I've had Renji about 4-5 years and I wish I could apologize to him that it has taken me this long to change. Maybe I am still wrong, I know I have a lot more ahead of me, but I know what I was doing wasn't quite right.
I used to think a dog growling over a food or bone should be immediately dealt with. Now I realize how dangerous that can be. This is something best handled in daily life by being someone your dog can respect and trust. Yes, Renji will growl over a knuckle bone at me. He rarely gets these and they are doggy treasures. I ask him to come to me for a piece of cheese and then he can go back to his bone. In time, I foresee the growls easing off. We won't growl over his dinner and I can pick up his bowl at will. Before we react to our dogs' growls, we need to step away and think about the circumstances and work out what needs to be done, if anything.
I'll probably no longer be recommending NILIF in the way as its commonly known, rather I would recommend an owner having issues to give the dog twice as much physical exercise than it is currently getting, whatever it may be, four times as much mental exercise (especially basic obedience and proofing), expose your dog consistenly to lots of different people and environments, give your dog reasons to want to be with you (clicker training, positive training using reinforcers it likes), and decide on rules for the house and be consistent with them (dog doesn't get in bed, dog gets on couch only if it will get off on command without hesitation). Modify as needed to fit the individuals concerned.
Comments, thoughts, stories, suggestions, recommendations, and criticisms are all welcomed. I do enjoy reading about how others have changed and modified their methods over time and why and what their results were.
Renji - 6 y/o M GSD x chow rescue
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"German shepherd dog breeding is working dog breeding or it is not German shepherd dog breeding." -v. Stephanitz