Less Respect, More Motivation - A Paradigm Shift That Helped Me Help Wally | Exploits of an Amateur Dog Trainer: Blog Edition

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Less Respect, More Motivation - A Paradigm Shift That Helped Me Help Wally

When I first dove into dog training, I read a lot that told me about the importance of a dog's respect for you and that you should watch out for when a dog doesn't respect you. Well, being completely new, I started to analyze everything Wally did under that light.

I would be wondering if he's jumping on me and stretching while doing so a lack of respect (it was one of the first posts I ever made on a dog forum), if he did this or didn't do that, was it because I wasn't earning enough of his respect and what I need to do get him to have more respect for me, and so on.

Added on top of that was the fact I didn't know he was fearful at the time, so much of his refusals or "ignoring" my directions was viewed in the light of him having less respect for me.

Then as things started getting better between us, he was working more with me. At the time, I had started getting into "clicker training" (I now hate this expression - I prefer to call it marker training, since that's what it is - the clicker is just the marker in use), and then the thought was: Is he doing it because this is helping me gain his respect or because he's getting stuff from me?'

After pondering that for some time, I said to myself: 'Who cares - he's working with me.'

Hey, boss! Will this get me something I like?

I think the new enthusiasm I was seeing got me thinking even more about what makes a dog do things they do (or don't do). A common thread I was seeing is that the dog is basically doing whatever he does because he's motivated to do so by some reason he's seeing. This is what I mean by "Less Respect, More Motivation". I'm not saying dogs shouldn't respect their people, or people in general. I don't know if they do or don't. Personally, I think their social mindsets are behavior oriented and 'respect' is as much a concept as it is any set of behaviors. I'm saying that we know they think in terms of motivation/motivators. Using that approach is what helped me help Wally significantly more.

When I started thinking in those lines, my questions became 'okay, what motivated him to do that?' In some cases it was the fear issues he had (and still has to a much lesser degree), a lot of times it is the prospect of a reward he really wants to get, or perhaps something/someone that is attracting him, like a dog whining playfully or a squirrel in the field, or some scent on the ground.

Looking at his actions in terms of 'what motivates him?' let me observe him and get some insight into what's going on in his mind. I could then utilize these motivators during our training. It's the basic thrust of the Premack Principle, which can be very effective when it can be utilized safely/reasonably. Obviously, he's not going to be allowed to run across the street to meet a dog or go after a squirrel, or tread on someone's yard to investigate a smell, or anything like that.

This mindset let me be more of a participant in his thought processes, letting me getting what I would like wedged in as the means to the end he wants. This in turn will motivate him to go through me instead of just acting on his own, teaching impulse control and making him willing, if not wanting me to give him the 'answer' to how can I have/get/keep doing whatever it is that's the target of his current desire.

And if you wanted, it can be said he "respects" me/my directions more if only because they could lead to what he might want, or something good happening. I do think "respect" is too much of a human-centric way to frame it, meaning that I think it's oriented too much around how humans think about relationships and such. Using a motivation orientation puts it back on the dog and how the dog is more likely to be thinking and, at least to me, simplifies the picture significantly. You can observe what the dog is desiring just by looking at him. You can see what his goal is by observing his behavior and the target/orientation of that behavior. These things are then easier to act on from the human side and more available to be utilized in shaping the dog's mind.

I like to think of it as "dogs do what works, training is showing them what works."