Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Look Ma! NO Hands!

Look Ma!  NO Hands!

When I was a youngster and finally managed to ride a bicycle my next goal was to do what the really good bike riders did – ride with no hands.  When that day came it was a wonderful experience indeed.

Well, that isn’t the only place where a no-hands technique is wonderful.  It applies to dog (and cat!) training as well.*  Dog’s can learn to walk at one’s side without using the hands to yank on a leash.  Dog’s can learn to sit, lie down, and a myriad of other activities without the use of a leash.  Of course, we all realize that we do not have to teach dogs to sit or lie down – they know perfectly well how to perform those behaviors.  We want the behaviors to be on cue.  Notice I did not say “command”.  That is just another example of the changes that take place with positive reinforcement based training.  We are not commanding our companion animals anymore than the killer whale trainer is “commanding” his charge to perform a behavior.  Fat chance anyone could “command” such a creature!

One of the reasons people do yank on choke chains to get dogs to perform is that they CAN do it.  Of course, some people get bitten when a dog decides he has had enough but that is for another article.

Understanding what motivates animals to learn takes some effort.  Just like learning to ride that bike.  Dogs do what works.  If they can drag their person down the street they’ll surely do so.  If being in position is rewarded, guess where you’ll find the little rascal?  Or that big hunk of a dog, for that matter?  Right where you want her.

Instead of the choke chain (or prong collar or electric collar!) punishing the dog for doing the undesirable behavior, dogs are rewarded for being in the right place at the right time.  For dogs with a long history of pulling there are alternatives to help change their behavior and get those wonderful moments worth rewarding.  Those alternatives include head halters and wonderful new harnesses that are designed to stop the pulling.

Something really important to know and remember is:  Prevention is worth a pound of cure.  If people start their young pups out correctly the chances are slim they are going to have problems in the future.  People usually wait, unfortunately, until the pulling has reached the point where their shoulders are getting weekly chiropractic treatments before seeking help.  In all fairness it is important to acknowledge that there are MANY people who still believe one should not begin training until a pup is at least 6 months of age!  With punishment based training that is most certainly the case.  With positive based training methods puppies of 8 weeks have a ball with the “games” and learn everything they need to know!  The only thing one must remember is to not ask something of the little one that it physically cannot do.  Training begins the day the pup enters your life.  You are always training - best it be a plan or you end up with a lot of behaviors that will require modification.

So while that leash is a safety line that should always be used in situations where the dog may escape,  do investigate the No hands! training methods.

*No hands training works successfully with elephants, California sea lions, rhinos, African Wild Dogs, etc., etc., etc.

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