13 November 2009

Thinking different part 2-this is sort of about dog training if you can just get past the part about the naked, sandy people.

A long time ago, in a land called the 80's, I lived in a crappy, falling down shack with an ocean view and indoor/outdoor carpeting, with a band of degenerates as roommates. They've since gone on to become things like employed. Parents. Dead. I was sort of the oddball of the group. Because I had to go to work every day and ride a bunch of horses, instead of sitting in the living room, doing bong hits and watching Bruce Lee movies. And then at night, I was too tired from riding horses all day to enjoy the wild nightlife, which involved extra people coming over for sitting around, doing bong hits, and watching Bruce Lee movies. And Dallas. Those were the only 2 channels we got.

Oh, those were the days.

One of my roommates loved to cook. I think. She would tear around our miniscule little kitchen without cupboards, slicing and dicing and frying and always ending up throwing a bunch of stuff into a giant pressure cooker. She'd get all worked up and start yelling at everybody in New Jerseyese, put on that pressure cooker, then go enjoy the nightlife in the living room gathered around the tiny little black and white tv that lived on a cardboard box. Which meant she'd forget about the pressure cooker. Due to the bong hit portion of the evening.

And inevitably, EXPLOSION. And pressure cooked contents of god knows what hippie food, flying everywhere. Like the poor pot just couldn't stand it anymore. All that stuff sealed in, heat turned on high, and then just left there on the stove until it blew it's top.

I think dogs do this sometimes. I know some of mine do. If I make the pressure a little bit too high for them, they flip their lid, which manifests in various ways, all of them just as messy as enough rice to feed 20 stoned out of their gourd hippies and punk rockers stuck to a peeling, rotten ceiling and lead painted walls. The rice I mean. Although sometimes, maybe we did have people stuck to the ceiling there. The house's name was The Notorious House.

Gustavo can go from a dead run to deer in the headlights, slam on the brakes. And either stand there staring, or bolt. Ruby shows the pressure by sticking her nose to the ground and sniffing around, feigning interest in looking for snacks but really, just trying to shake the pressure. Otterpop can slow way down, or start barking at dogs and people that displease her.

Pressure off, none of these behaviors. Model citizens. The dogs we all dream of.

What creates the pressure? Lots of things. Bad handling. Things that scare them. Just getting the heebie jeebies because something isn't right. Uncomfortable environment. Pain. And when the pressure gets to high, they have to find something else they can do to release it. And I think they get really good at this, because who wants to always be cleaning rice off the ceiling when you are plain old sick and tired of rice and moldy cheese staring you in the face everytime you just want to make a peanut butter sandwich which is what you live on and who the hell keeps stealing your bread?

I digress. But looking for those pressure signs, and heading them off at the pass, way more constructive than trying a million times to get that dog into the weave poles. With their tail dragging and a sad face that makes everybody want to cry just watching it creep through those poles. Or because it has just bolted and zoomied across the ring. That's a point where the pot long exploded and the bottom burned and the house is about to catch fire until thank god one of those hippies discerned the difference between burning weed and burning house and made a save.

Maybe teaching that dog a couple tricks it can use to relieve stress. Like a backup, plan B for dogs. Maybe coming up with a different way to reteach the poles. A creative way to make an evil teeter totter a dog's best bud. Something new, something different, instead of just keeping on with something that isn't working. But trying to never let the pressure cooker reach the boiling point of explosion.

Eventually, I moved out of that house. Enough was a enough. I think it may have had to do with coming home one night to 100 naked, hairy, and sandy people dancing in the living room. Naked AND sandy. And we had no vacuum. And naked asses sitting on our threadbare couch that I would have to touch? The last straw. I believe we will call that the motivating factor for change. Moving? A super solution. I think I even bought a vacuum cleaner at the flea market. And my roomates had a color tv and we could watch LA Law. No more pressure cookers.

Best thing for dogs, don't even let the pressure build. For some dogs, it's always going to be inevitable. Our jobs as dog trainers, help find ways around that pressure, and ways to let it release so that learning and training can happen. Teach them that a little pressure on can result in fabulous things and then getting the pressure off. Instead of resulting in ricey, sandy, hairy explosions all over the walls.


Elf said...

Ditto ditto ditto. After all these years in agility in all these different classes with all these different dogs (and all my dogs), I like to believe that I recognize stress signs in dogs that often their handlers don't recognize. It's usually the novice handlers who think they know something but don't realize what they don't know or, forgive me because I like doing CPE, but CPE handlers, who actually maybe often fit into the first category even if they're at the higher levels. There are exceptions to that in CPE--Erika, Dave G., Kathleen, me ;-)... But I digress. Same issue, I've said to people that their dog is giving stress signals & they'll contradict me: "No, he stopped to scratch because he's deliberately blowing me off," "No, he's sniffing because he's easily distracted," etc. "Does he do that in training?" "No, but [fill in stupid--sorry, ignorant-- response]." OK, I often think that I would not have the patience to be a handler trainer that so many of you actual trainers have.

P.S. Great pressure cooker analogy.

leerie said...

Two great posts Laura!

Anonymous said...

Laura!!! That might be the most disturbing way possible to start a morning, reading about the naked sandy people on your threadbare couch!!! Yikes! Yuck! (But then again, you know how I feel about nudists...)


team small dog said...

If there are 2 things I don't want to see, it's sad, stressy dogs and hairy, sandy nudists.

patti said...

Maybe a life lesson here, too.