Thinking It Through

A rescue friend sent me the following video just now–the great Jean Donaldson getting a Chow named Buffy accustomed to her Gentle Leader.  Buffy learns very quickly to not only tolerate the thing, but to look for it in happy anticipation (for now, of a treat, but later, of a walk).  Here you go:

I just watched it again, and this time remembered to look at the comments below.  Somebody wrote that dogs don’t eat cheese, along with some other silly things, and it made me even more determined to write this blog entry, although I just want to go to bed (what a couple of days it has been…)
Today I was at my vet’s to pick up meds for Jimmy and Grace.  It was quiet there, since there was no longer a vet on duty, and the office was open only for boarding and for the kind of business I was doing.  One of the kennel staff was chatting with one of the receptionists.  We all got to talking.
The kennel guy said that he has one dog, who ‘looks like a very skinny Rottweiler’.  He’d adopted the dog from our big local shelter.  Here I need to digress for a moment.
Today’s conversation was one of the many events in my life with dogs which will lead, I can see, to the same destination.  I will be writing about this shelter and my experiences in it, and about my conversations with others about it.  I will need to give it a pseudonym, and today, while I was driving back from the vet, one popped into my head. 
This shelter shall henceforth be known as Sugarcoat Farm.  Back to my story… 
The kennel guy had adopted his dog from Sugarcoat Farm, and he said that the only reason they’d let him have it is because he worked at my vet’s office.  I asked him what they had planned to do with the dog if it hadn’t let him have it–euthanize it?  He said no, they’d planned to rehab it. 
Now this was a real surprise.  To be perfectly honest, what I thought when he said that was, ‘Yeah, right’.  I will be writing so much more about this that I even hate to get into it now, but suffice it to say that, when I volunteered at Sugarcoat Farm, I was told by the Volunteer Coordinator and by the excellent head trainer on staff, when she came to address our class, that she herself does not work with the shelter dogs (or, almost never).  She’s employed to work with the public, teaching positive-only training classes for puppies, dogs with special needs, and any dog, adopted or not, whose owner just wants to work on basic training.  These classes generate a lot of income for Sugarcoat Farm, and that was why they’d hired this trainer, and no one was trying to keep that a secret, when I was there.
I wondered, and am wondering now, exactly who was going to rehab the dog.
That was one part of my preoccupation with the kennel guy’s story.  Here’s the second part.
He told me that he had taken a class from the excellent above-mentioned trainer, and hadn’t liked it.  ‘She was always giving them treats, a treat for this, a treat for that…I want my dog to do things because she loves me, not because she’s getting paid for it, you know?’  He was looking right into my eyes when he asked this, and I simply can’t imagine what expression I had on my face, because my thoughts were absolutely racing.
‘This man just doesn’t get it’, I thought, at the same time I was thinking, ‘Holy shit, girl, you said that exact same stupid thing to two of your dog friends, just about a year ago’.
I could tell this man really loved his dog, and he was miles ahead of the general public in terms of…well, I don’t really know what to call it, actually.  Will you understand what I mean if I tell you simply that he’s a dog person?  He’s not a dog owner; he’s a dog person.  He wanted to talk about his training experiences, as I always did and do.  He wanted to talk dogs, period.  In my mind, he’s just like me, when it comes to anything having to do with dogs.
His question–which wasn’t rhetorical, by the way; he was looking for an answer from me and, I think, was expecting me to agree with him–has started me on another mental journey through the land of dog training.  And I expect that, this time, I’ll go a little further than I did the last time.  For the second time in my life, all things in my life with dogs (my note factory activities have so far not had anything to do with this) are converging on one location. 
I just got a nice mental image for it.  I’m seated at a table in a restaurant, prepared for and expecting to receive a delicious meal.  There are swinging doors in the room’s four walls, many of them per wall, in fact.  Waiters begin coming through the doors, heading for my table in a nicely timed and choreographed pattern, each of them bringing me one perfect morsel of food, something I need and want.
In real life, those are morsels of dog interaction knowledge, something I’m more interested in than even chocolate, and that’s saying a lot.  🙂 
In short, what I’m saying is that, right now, everything for me is ‘dog training’. 
There’s Sawyere, front and center. 
 There’s Sadie, who, now that Sawyere is my constant preoccupation, is benefiting from my even-greater attention to her (what I now know to call) rehabbing. 
There’s my friend on the board of Sugarcoat Farm, who has sent his newly-adopted Sugarcoat Farm dog away to be trained by a stranger, not someone using positive-only methods.
There’s the group of know-it-alls on Facebook who are making spiteful fun of positive-only training methods.
And there’s Beloved Friend, whose newly-begun work with Coonhounds has caused me to relive everything I learned through Burberry.  Beloved F continues to show every sign of being a naturally gifted dog trainer.  She doesn’t have all the answers yet, but the ones she does have, having arrived at them through her own processes, are shared by the best trainers.  And she asks all the right questions.     
I made so many mistakes with Burberry, and I knew I was making them, and I was trying so hard to do better…I had two knowledgeable friends helping me, too, and I could feel that the things they were saying were right, and good.  It was to them that I said the same thing that the kennel guy said to me today, about not wanting to bribe your dog.  I don’t want to downplay the help they gave me in every aspect of my life with dogs.  But I can say honestly that neither of them was particularly good at modifying their ‘delivery’ of information in such a way that it would reach the intended recipient; in this case, me.  In other words, when I didn’t ‘get’ something, they let it ride, rather than trying again in a different way.  Maybe they knew that I’d find the way, eventually, which is exactly what I feel about the kennel guy.  Thinking about this led me down another bend in the path.
I am a very good cello teacher.  I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant.  Actually, if it does, it may strike your ears better if I’m more specific, and say that I am very good at modifying my delivery of information to suit my listener.  I can change ‘languages’ for each individual student, if need be.  In this, I am more skilled than either of the friends who were trying to help me with Burberry (although they’re pretty darned good–please don’t misunderstand that–and they often succeeded beautifully in helping me). 
This made me think of two things.  One has nothing to do, really, with dog training (although it may, if he ends up reading this blog entry!), but instead, with note factory concerns.  I had lunch a few days ago with my friend who’s on the board of Sugarcoat Farm.  He’s also on the board of the note factory, and we were talking of ‘modern music’, which can be defined so many ways that I don’t want even to try (although, as it happens, my friend asked about it that day, and we both discovered that our ideas of what is meant by the term are decades apart),
Hold on, I think I need to give my friend a pseudonym.  He will be Mr. DBTY, because my favorite thing he’s ever said to me (and there have been very many interesting things), was this:  if you want to succeed in life, Dress British and Think Yiddish.  Someone had told him that, and I think it’s true, and perfect, and I intend to follow it, especially since, without ever having verbalized it to myself, I realize I’ve always thought it, making it easy advice to follow.  😉
Back to my story.  My friend was lamenting the fact that the note factory sometimes force-feeds modern music to him, and I was trying to explain that, for many people, there’s no forcing about it–we actually like the stuff!  I’d said this before, and it hadn’t resonated with him (love that expression, although it’s a cliché), so I wanted to think of a new way to talk about it. 
I tried reminding him of all the people who don’t like any classical music, all of which he loves, (unless it’s what he calls ‘modern’).  He cut in with, ‘But that’s just because they haven’t been exposed to it, and I have been exposed to modern music, and it never gets any better’.  This was still ground we’d already trodden together, so I kept searching for something fresh.  ‘It’s just a new language, modern music, and you don’t know the language yet.  Exposure to it hasn’t taught you the language, probably because what you’ve been listening to didn’t inspire you to want to learn it.  You have to find yourself some music which makes it worthwhile for you to know that new language.’  We went on to talk about different composers, and it turned out that he’s never heard even one piece by my favorite ‘modern’ composer, Arvo Part.  So I’ll buy him a CD, and see what he thinks.  I love how honest he is in his opinions, and although he’s ‘wrong’, just as I was wrong in thinking that giving Burb treats was bribery, both of us should be proud of ourselves for searching, for staying on the path.  We’ll get where we’re going, in our own good time.
But here’s the really interesting part of what Mr. DBTY said that day, the thing that keeps coming back to me.  ‘I don’t want to learn a new language of music!  I came here for lunch expecting to speak English with you.  I wasn’t expecting to speak Dutch, and I would not be happy if you insisted on speaking Dutch to me!’  
I found this funny and charming, but also compelling.  It makes perfect sense, really.  And yet…
Not once in my life have I ever encountered a person who is not proud that he or she has the ability to speak a second or third language.  In fact, being bilingual (or more) is considered so desirable that it’s one of the only (the only?) classroom-learned skills to be used for the purposes of impressing and flirting with possible romantic partners.  That was a bad sentence, but do you know what I mean?  Speaking another language makes you look like a brainiac–a sexy one.  It’s a marketable skill, in many senses of the word.  🙂 
Why would the language of modern music be any different?  The ability to be fluent in it, or at least conversant with it, is a good goal to have.    And you shouldn’t start learning to speak French by reading L’Etranger.  You should start by learning palatable things, things you really want, or need, to say.  That’s why, early on, they teach you how to ask for big pieces of multi-layered desserts in French restaurants, and also how to ask for the bill.  I want to run this by Mr. DBTY and see if it resonates with him. 
Mr. DBTY’s concerns about ‘modern music vs. himself’ are very interesting to me, and I believe that our conversations on the subject are important to both of us.  Even more interesting to me was the way in which my subconscious mind tied up all the loose ends of the last few days, including this modern music conversation, into a neat little bundle, like this:
Using treats to train a dog is not bribery, it’s not paying him or her.  It’s simply a more polite way to ask a dog to make a connection with you; more polite because, by using treats, you are conducting the conversation in a language the dog already knows.  Think about it.  The dog does not know English, not at all.  It will never know English, with the best will in the world.  It’s doing a remarkable, generous thing, meeting you way more than halfway, by learning the few words of English you’re demanding that it learn. 
You have to find a language that both of you can converse in–it’s that simple.  The dog learns some English, you learn some dog body language (he or she is already fluent in your body language).  These things are pretty generally accepted, in the world of dog training.  But about almost everything else, people argue.  Treats–bad or good?  Clickers–bad or good?  Shock collars (euphemistically called ‘e collars’  now)–bad or good?  The list goes on. 
How can this be such rocket science?  Seriously, would you want to be attempt to have a relationship with another person, using electric shocks as the means of sharing ideas?  I’m being very simplistic, I know, but really think about it.  You and I are trying to come to an agreement.  Do you think we’d have a better working relationship if we tried to convince each other in a way that respected each of our differing approaches to life, or by using force on each other?  Do you think we’d have better luck finding common ground if we started our negotiations over a tasty snack, or if we started them by giving each other a few electric shocks, or by poking each other’s necks with sharp metal things?  Which would have a better chance of leading us to consensus–if we both spoke a language we both knew, or if you spoke English and I spoke Dutch?
Thinking back over the mistakes I made with Burberry (although they were not failures of knowledge so much as failures of patience), knowing that I’ve come a long way since then, has made me feel an even greater tenderness towards her.  She has always been so patient with me…I think there’s a chance that Burberry will be the great dog love of my life, no matter how long I live. 
I wish I’d had the wits to tell even a tiny part of this to the kennel guy.  I didn’t.  I was speechless, a rare condition for me.  He went on to tell me that he’d taken his dog to a man I know for certain has a much harsher training method than the very gentle one practiced by the trainer at Sugarcoat Farm.  The kennel guy was very happy with the results.  So, let’s sum this up.
The kennel guy wanted his dog to behave out of love for him (an absolutely impossible and quite selfish, needy thing to ask of anyone, in my opinion, except that I’ve already admitted to you that I know firsthand where he’s coming from–the only difference is that I’ve now progressed a little, and I realize that it’s actually that I want the dog to ‘behave’ because she and I have developed an excellent, respectful working relationship, one in which I’ve got to ‘behave’, too).  To accomplish this using treats, he felt, would be bribing his dog.  So he took the dog to someone who would accomplish it (really?  ya think?) using force and intimidation, and possibly fear.  Does this make any sense? 
Unfortunately, there are many people who think it does.  Or is it because they just haven’t thought it through? 
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2 Responses to Thinking It Through

  1. Anja says:

    I tried a version of the gentle leader with Panda, but she HATED it! However, I just put it on her…. no introduction….. There are great training tools out there, but if we don’t use them properly, they can back-fire. What we have to understand is that it is not the tool that fails….. it is our lack of skill that makes them work!
    So, eventually I will take the time and re-introduce the gentle leader to Panda…. do it right and …. I should video tape it when I do, because with instructions like these….. I’m sure it will work like a charm!!!

    • cellopets says:

      It’s a great video. I love it, and am grateful to you for sending it. I’m sure it will work for you. When you read this entry, it was very far from being done. Let me know your thoughts if you read it again in its finished form. You know where to find me. 🙂

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