When Labels Limit Action

When Labels Limit Action

We are all guilty of it. Assigning a blanket adjective, a label, to things around us such as people, pets, even inanimate objects like cars. Surely it's a part of human nature as a means of categorizing information in our environment based on collective experience. So is it harmful to label?

 

Growing up, my older sister was “the smart one” and I was “the athletic one.”  Our parents didn't realize it at the time, but these labels were factors of limitation for us. We behaved accordingly to our labels, and our parents accepted our behavior without question. We did not realize our true talents and interests of all things intellectual and physical until we became adults, away from such implied personality descriptions.  Those labels became an excuse for our parents to accept our behavior simply because they didn’t know how to address it otherwise.

LEADER OF THE PACK

LEADER OF THE PACK

If you ever talk to people about dogs, you've probably come across someone who espouses "dominance theory" - the idea that dogs are constantly grappling for rank with other dogs and with humans. Proponents of dominance theory often advocate for "training methods" (I use the term loosely) that seek to prove the human's "alpha" status over the dog(s). These methods range from fairly benign - always cross through a door before your dog, always eat first - to downright abusive, including physically bullying or forcing the dog to roll over, inflicting pain or fear, and in extreme cases even choking dogs on leashes until they pass out. All in the name of "showing the dog who's boss."

While I find these methods personally distasteful, more importantly, they are also appallingly misinformed. 

The Perfect Bite

The Perfect Bite

Recently, I was commiserating with a trainer friend of mine. One of her clients had contacted her to let her know that they had surrendered their dog to a shelter because the dog had bitten their ten year old daughter. My friend, shocked to hear this, pressed for details. It turned out the dog had gotten loose in a busy area, the daughter had grabbed him, and, startled, he turned around and bit her. The bite left no marks, so it was what trainers refer to as a "grab-bite." 

My friend was devastated, and I was too, once I heard the details. The owner felt she had done something right by relinquishing the dog, citing that she "couldn't take chances" with her children. As a parent myself, I understand that - but what this client didn't understand is that her (now former) dog had shown her that he absolutely could be trusted with her kids.

Down In The Park

Down In The Park

Ah, the dog park. Depending on your (and your dog's) experience, the dog park may evoke happy images of pups romping gleefully through grassy fields, or it may be more akin to a nightmare in - as a trainer friend of mine calls them - a "dirt parking lot." I have mixed feelings about dog parks, mainly due to the fact that not everyone uses them responsibly. Recently, here in Denver, a popular dog park was temporarily closed because people were misusing it, and I've heard discussions about other parks following suit. Even at the parks I really enjoy - ones with plenty of room for dogs to run and have space from one another - I often see people knowingly or unknowingly engaging in behaviors that range from inconsiderate to dangerous. So, in the interest of making a trip to the dog park more pleasant for everyone, and hopefully avoiding future shutdowns, I've compiled some suggested guidelines that we should all take into consideration when visiting:

Will Work For Food (Or Fun!)

Will Work For Food (Or Fun!)

Today is National Take Your Dog to Work Day. We know that there are many benefits to having dogs in the workplace, but what many of us fail to consider is that most of our dogs, with the exception of joining us around the water cooler once a year, are themselves unemployed.

Most dog breeds were developed to perform a task - herding, retrieving, hunting, pulling, or the like - that in modern society is now performed without the aid of a dog. However, those drives still remain in our dogs. Do you have a Labrador retriever that will chase the tennis ball until he flops? Or a border collie that tries to herd your family from room to room? Or perhaps (true story) a Newfoundland who insists on dragging your kids out of the pool to "rescue" them?

Great Expectations

Great Expectations

In Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, the author delves into what it takes to become an expert - an outlier - at something. It could be a sport, playing an instrument, or computer programming, but in any discipline, there are people who are outstanding in their field. Gladwell wanted to determine what factors set these "outliers" apart from the rest. Adjusting for things such as fortuitous connections, birthplace, or access to resources, Gladwell claimed to have found one consistent similarity among highly skilled people in any field: they had devoted over 10,000 hours of practice to their discipline. 

Come A Little Bit Closer

Come A Little Bit Closer

Come when called, or "recall," as trainers refer to it, is considered by most dog owners to be a fundamentally important behavior for their dog to learn. Even If you never plan to have your dog off-leash in public, there may be many times where you need your dog to come back to you when requested - perhaps they slipped out the front door, someone left a gate open, or you'd like for them to come in from your yard. Whatever the reason, teaching your dog to come when called is a useful skill that can keep them safe in unforeseen circumstances. And while it's easy to train your dog to recall, there are some common mistakes you should avoid in order to produce a solid, reliable behavior.

No Puppy Left Behind

No Puppy Left Behind

As trainers and behavior consultants, we are often asked "at what age can you begin training a dog?" We love it most when we are asked by prospective puppy owners, because the answer is: as soon as you bring them home!

Puppies begin learning before their eyes and ears are open. Smells and sensations provide important information about the world, and begin to shape behavior: moving towards warmth is rewarded with comfort. Moving towards the smell of "mom" results in feeling safe. From that point forward, puppies are never not learning about the world. 

This means that dogs are learning every waking moment from birth, whether we are teaching them or not. So, what do we want them to learn?