Tuesday, 17 June 2014

"I don't want to think I've been doing it wrong...."

"... because that makes me feel bad. So I won't listen, but I will carry on doing things the way I have been doing them."

Yes. Even if they are wrong!

To get back to context - I'm talking about breaking the news to someone that the methods they are using to train their dogs are wrong, for a number of reasons.

  • Involve pain or fear or startling their dog
  • Carry the risk of 'fall out', i.e. unwanted and unpleasant side effects
  • Don't address the root cause of the unwanted behaviour
  • Are confrontational and risk personal injury to the handler
  • Suppress unwanted behaviour rather than actually fix the problem

When I have to address someone's dog training or dog behaviour problem, the urge is to tell them all of the above, because they NEED to know all this, right?

Well... yeeeeeeeeees... but...

Most people will be put on the defensive if you tell them they have been doing it all wrong, they may well (they almost certainly DO) love their dogs very dearly, but you make them feel bad, and they will go into denial, and that means they will keep ON using those methods, because to change, means admitting they are wrong!

Yep, they fear they are wrong, which does mean that your words have in some way hit home, they can determine a grain of truth in there as unpleasant as it is to recognise, and they don't want to hear it.

But they need to know it's wrong.... !!

Eventually, yes, but they don't need to HEAR this from you - come on, you are at least a fan, if not a professional user of positive reinforcement training. When you make someone feel bad about what they have done, what they are doing, do you know what happens?

You become the aversive. 

They want to avoid you, you are the aversive here, you make them uncomfortable, they are experiencing positive punishment but the behaviour that will reduce is not what you want, their behaviour toward their dog! Nope, the behaviour that will reduce is 'listening to and being around YOU'...

Sometimes just as some dogs will redirect and use aggressive behaviour toward someone doing something unpleasant to them, people will do the same - you are the messenger... BANG!

Bu... wha... how... Ok, what do I do then?

First of all, avoid wherever possible, giving advice to people who did not ask for it! Those people are the LEAST likely to listen to you.

If you absolutely  must, because you fear their dog is suffering right now then tread carefully my friend, tread very carefully indeed.

Don't wade in there telling them they are doing wrong, the chances are the situation is already fraught, they already feel bad in some way to be doing what they are doing - if you go in hurling abuse or telling them, no matter how politely, how wrong they are, they are likely to at best, ignore you and at worst, punch you.

Instead, be sympathetic, avoid blame, offer a workable solution.

You see someone yanking their dog on a lead because it won't walk nicely, they are getting dragged about, the dog is getting a sore neck.

If you wade in and tell them all about collapsed tracheas, and how barbaric choke collars are (or prongs or whatever they are using)... you are not helping, you are not part of the solution.

If you could go over and say 'hey that looks like real hard work, you have my sympathy, I've been there and has anyone shown you this' and then go on to demonstrate luring a loose leash walk with food or suggesting a make of harness that is secure along with a training class... you MIGHT.. just MIGHT help that dog out in future.

There is still a high chance you'll be told to get to fuck and mind your own business - but it's a better chance than just wading in all guns blazing!

Ok.. so what about people who DO ask for advice, they definitely want help yes?

Erm well.. not always!

Some people will want you to wave a magic wand -  hey presto, problem solved.
Some people will actually want advice and solutions they can work on themselves.
Some people want advice but won't put in any work, but hey at least they can say they tried....!
Some people want you to tell them that they are justified in what they are doing, or it's not their fault they can't fix the problem.

So it's not a case of being able to crash in telling folk what's wrong and what needs to change, even if they DID express a desire for advice!

Again, you need to be sympathetic, empathetic, listen to them, give them as much positive reinforcement as you can, manage them, redirect them into the behaviours or attitudes or conclusions you want them to reach...

Yep just the same as training dogs!

Let's meet Mrs Thing. She's completely fictitious yet very very real at the same time.

She has a dog called Rover, he wears a prong collar because he's huge and she's tiny, he wears a shock collar so he can go out in the yard for some freedom as there is no physical fence up. Mrs Thing ADORES  Rover, she kicked her last boyfriend out for teasing him, she lives alone apart from the dog, but she was raised to train dogs by using punishment.

Rover pulls on the lead, he's pulled her over, he likes to rant and rave at people passing by and at other dogs and if he is in the yard when the postman comes he goes absolutely nuts, he has bitten two delivery people already and UPS won't deliver to Mrs Thing's address any more.

You cannot present Mrs Thing with the concept that she has been treating her dog cruelly for the last 5 years, even though that is in certain contexts, completely true. Mrs Thing has also adored this dog, fed him, taken him to the vet, cuddled him, allowed him up on her bed, spent thousands on him... the things she has done to train him she felt were necessary, deep down she didn't like doing them, but in her mind there WAS no alternative, she's done this for his own good...

Rover needs you to be Mrs Thing's friend and advisor and for that, Mrs Thing needs to trust you and listen to you - if she feels you've put your judgey-pants on and are telling her she's cruel, she is not going to trust and listen to you!

So, find something to reward - everyone likes to hear how awesome their dog is, so tell her, Rover is an amazing, stunning, fabulous, squishable dog, he's gorgeous, you'd LOVE a dog like him.

Find out the things Rover is good at, if possible find out in a 'show and tell' kinda way, if he is good at tricks or solving puzzles, see that happen - I take puzzle toys to all consults with me because aside from being an invaluable tool for assessing a dogs brain and how they solve a puzzle, it's also AWESOME for an owner to see, in front of a witness, how smart their dog is!

Somedays you have to work hard to find something to praise but believe me, there will be something, find it, use it.

Now Mrs Thing is listening to you, now you and she share something, you both recognise how amazing Rover is, that's money in the 'trust' bank between you and her.

To address the problems, ask Mrs Thing not what she wants to STOP happening, but what she would like to SEE happening INSTEAD.

So we aren't worrying about Rover pulling on the lead and lunging at other dogs - why not, because we are here to teach Rover to walk on a nice loose lead and focus on his person!

At some point Mrs Thing will eventually ask if what she's been doing is wrong - at this point you may be forced to agree BUT... do so tactfully and sensitively.

Explain that in whatever situation applies, MOST people feel the need to do the thing she's been doing, it's NORMAL, reassure her that it is perfectly understandable, she wasn't to know and crucially, move on quickly because the past is the past, it doesn't matter now because NOW she's going to be doing this cool stuff.

If you've handled this really carefully, instead of YOU having to tell someone something nasty, they realise that for themselves, and then there is no messenger to shoot!

You are the person who is providing the solution, you are giving them the feel-goods, you say nice things about them and their dog, so they will continue to listen to you!

It's also worth remembering, there's no point having someone come to a point where they realise even for themselves that what they were doing was wrong, if they have not been set up to understand the solution and the way to redress that issue.

Anyone who is mentally down on themselves, who does not HAVE the answer presented to them in an appealing and easy way to achieve it, is not GOING to achieve it, they WILL fall back on what they did before because they have no other option.

So, if you are going to offer advice to someone who wants to hear it, you must be prepared to give them the tools to cope, set them up to succeed, and if you can't do that... it's probably best you say nothing at all.

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