Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 61 - Spice

I arrived at my part time job to find a man and his red Doberman in my classroom. I've seen him once before and didn't care for his over bearing handling skills, but chose to ignore him and let it go. Today, I didn't. Sensing he was unwelcome, he left the training center and then demonstrated his training skills in front of me as if he was going to teach me something. I am all about being educated as I realize I don't know everything, but when I clearly know there's a better and proven method in doing something, don't try to convince me that the wrong way is the right way.

He continued to yank on his dog's leash, popping the prong collar, tugging at the collar, and never releasing any of the tension on the collar. I let him continue, and didn't say anything immediately as sometimes I fear and think, "Who am I to get involved?". But the fact is, who am I not to get involved? Done with his demonstration, he walked away, but I decided to follow him and then, mustering all my nerve, asked, "Earlier, when you asked your dog to sit and stay, you continued to apply pressure on the leash and had the prong collar digging into your dog's skin - why?". His reply was, "Well, I want her to sit and stay no matter what distractions are going on.". "Okay", I replied, "but what is her reward for staying?". "I pet her when she comes", he replied. I said, "But that's a praise and reward for coming to you, what's her reward for staying? She continues to feel a painful pressure on her neck while she's staying, so what is her motivation to stay?". He stammered and didn't really have an answer. I told him there are other distractions other then pain that he could use to teach his dog a reliable stay.

As the conversation and demonstration of skills continued, the next thing I observed was him grabbing his dogs head forcefully, and forcing her to look him dead in the eye. Despite her struggling, he kept twisting and turning her head in order to make her keep eye contact. When he did manage to hold her head in place, she closed her eyes and averted her eyes as much as she could. I quickly stopped him, and asked him what he was attempting to do. He explained, "I'm just loving on her, and asking her to look at me.". While I thought "that's an odd display of affection", I saved derogatory commentary and instead said, "You're scaring her." Seeing the look of concern on his face, I explained, "Eye contact amongst dogs is a threat. She is doing her best to avoid a conflict and to avoid being seen as a threat to you. She is averting her eyes and communicating to you in her own language and you don't understand it. You're taking away her ability to communicate by forcing her head to stay still. If anything, it's a compliment that she's not looking at you as she's showing you, 'I mean you no harm, I want no conflict here, I am submitting to you!'". I quickly said her name, made a kissy noise, and she looked right at me. I immediately praised her and petted her. I showed him in about 2 seconds a better way to do and accomplish what he wanted. He tried it next and it worked perfectly. He was amazed and thanked me for sharing my knowledge.

While I found him unappealing at first, I actually hope this man will come back so I can continue to coach him and show him that not all things are accomplished by force. Putting fears aside I helped educate someone today, and hopefully prevented some painful yanks on the prong collar for his dog. I hope the lesson learned was that love and training doesn't have to be painful. There's a line in the movie "Michael" that comes to mind, and while I can't quote it perfectly, it refers to a battle between the North Wind and the Sun to see who could make a traveler take off his coat first. The North Wind blew and blew and tried as he might to blow the coat off the man, the man clung to his garment all the tighter. Defeated, the North Wind allowed the Sun to try the same challenge. The Sun came out and shone brightly and gently warmed the Earth. In no time the man, over heated by his coat, removed it. Sometimes in life, you just need to be the sun.

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