Tag Archives: Shy Dogs

Those “Graduation” Moments

This is Firkin. She used to be super reactive. If anyone listens to the Podcast…. She’s the one that snapped the long line and went Zombie style on the door I narrowly exited.

But that was then…….

THIS. Is now.

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This was outside a Starbucks in a strip mall. There’s a grocery store, a pet store, and a children’s bus stop there. No small feat!

Notice, the leash. Definitely prepared in case there’s a mistake…. But, loose from Firkin’s perspective. Not adding any negative energy. Her owner is learning to trust her ability to make good decisions.

New life for Firkin!

Good job.

“Pack Structure”

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while but……. Every time I try, I feel like my head will explode.

Giving it another shot:

Pack structure.

When, I got into dog training it was to help troubled dogs. To that end everyone was talking about various ways to enforce what many times is referred to as “Pack Structure”. There are lockdown style procedures that take away literally all freedoms. And more subtle programs like NILIF that even the “fairy farts and rainbows” crowd will condone. But everyone that works with rehab cases, at some point, throws some kind of “Pack Structure”, or “leadership building” stuff at you.

Here’s a list of the ones I use:

Resource Access (NILIF):

– NO resources, aside from water, should be freely accessible. including YOU (or other people) The dog should be “asking” to get affection. If they are being pushy and weren’t “invited” to interact, say “ah ah” and push them off. Only allow it if they stop and wait to be invited. And obviously you can initiate affection when you choose.

– You may slacken this protocol incrementally, as they prove they’re getting better manners.

Yielding/Drawing:

-Look for opportunities to step into your dogs space and have them yield to your Spatial Pressure. Also look for the opposite…. Draw them to you with body language. NOT A RECALL COMMAND. Just body language/sounds. This should be very subtle and organic. As simple as this practice is, it is PROFOUND in relationship development.

-Use this as much as possible as a style of guidance in the house. you should be guiding them through your home with your body language. You should be able to move them away, and pull them to you without touching them.

Kennel Training For Structure:

-Feed in kennel

-Feel free to put a chew toy, puzzle, or marrow bone in with them. But DON’T turn the Kennel into Chucky Cheez. They should also be developing the ability to relax in them.

– Give freedom incrementally, as they prove their ability to make good decisions on their own.

– DO NOT let any person/animal harass your dog while they are in their Kennel. Use spatial pressure to prevent this. It is a naturally understood pack language. And, all parties need to know you can speak it.

Tether Training For Relationship (Umbilical Cord):

-Try not to use the leash to “steer” them. Try to use the “Yielding/Drawing” protocol If that fails….. Ignore them and let them figure out that staying close to you is the way to turn off the leash pressure.

– Feel Free to calmly handle your dog while tethered. Look for any opportunity to Capture/NameRelaxation.

– Can Sleep tethered to your bed instead of you, if they sleep in your bed, or a bed in your room. Otherwise, they sleep in Kennel.

– If you are not able to adhere to these rules, or just need a break. In the kennel they go. You may put a chew toy, puzzle, or marrow bone in with them. But DON’T turn the Kennel into Chucky Cheez. They should also be developing the ability to relax in them.

– Once they have a “place” command, you may put them in a hold instead of kenneling.

– Give freedom incrementally, as they prove their ability to make good decisions on their own.

Obedience Training for Team Building (Leadership):

– The purpose of this isn’t to make the dog more “obedient”. Or to develop “tricks”. This is to develop team building through learning how to work together to achieve a goal.

– This is done through clarity of communication, by learning how to give and receive information, feedback and consequences.

– After the relationship is developed “embedded” obedience will keep your team running smoothly.

………..

“”That is a great list…… Which one do I use?”

&

“Woah…… Do I have to do this forever?!?!?!”

For most old school style trainers, the answer is “all of them”, and “for as long as you need to”.

But, the problem is that’s just easier than trying to figure it out for every dog.

The truth is, you only need to use the ones that help.

And, you only have to use them until you don’t need them any more.

Yep….. They’ll say do it for a “while”. And, slowly reduce structure until you notice a backslide, then add more.

But that gets into the thought that forever dogs are little conniving shits, that are just WAITING for the opportunity to seize back their dominance!

I just don’t buy that in most cases.

But… I also work with people daily that have OUT OF CONTROL dogs, with ZERO structure. Hmmm.

So I’m left with these two contradictory paradigms.

Both I can see helping dogs in some cases, and failing them in others.

Both I can see value in but can’t figure out how or when to prescribe them.

Enter Temple Grandin and Suzanne Clothier!

Temple Grandin:

In chapter #2 of her book “Animals Make Us Human”, Temple discussed the difference in “Pack Structure”. She suggests that there are 2 distinct kinds:

“Forced” & “Familial

This is from a handout I give clients that briefly summarizes my understanding of the two:

PACK STRUCTURE:

Dominance Theory was postulated from observing “forced” “non-familial” packs. It is necessary in these situations to maintain harmony.

Wild Canids usually “pack” in mostly familial packs with a few “adopted” members.

In familial packs, when the relationship is intact, there is no need for Dominance Theory. The “parents” behave as “stewards” of the pack. They guide the actions, and development, of the pack.

For dog owners, this means that when introducing a dog to your family, or the pack, you are creating a “forced” pack, and must observe Dominance Theory to some degree. If, you are able to nurture the relationship between ALL members of the pack, it may become a “familial” style pack. This may take a day, or a year. It is strictly up to the strength of the relationship.

This explains the old school procedure of going into “lockdown” when bringing a dog in. And as they get more “trained” these rules can be relaxed.

What is happening, is that the relationship is becoming strong enough to shift from “forced”, to “familial” pack structure.

If the relationships cannot be developed. Or, there are too many unrelated dogs in the pack. Then, you may be stuck with Dominance Theory for long term.

If you get a puppy, or an extremely soft dog in a single dog home, you may be able to follow “familial” structure from the beginning. But, if issues arise…. We may need some structure for a time.

Here’s where Suzanne Clothier comes in….

How to tell which state your in OBJECTIVELY!

I use my version of Suzanne Clothier’s Relationship Assessment Tool.

 

Score 1-10. 1 worst- 10 best. Handler Towards Dog: Dog Towards Handler:
Connection Love: Love:
Awareness: Awareness:
Respect: Respect:
Communication Information: Information:
Feedback: Feedback:
Consequences: Consequences:
Commitment Attention: Attention:
Responsibility: Responsibility:
Trust: Trust:

 

Here’s the Clarity-Relationship Handout I give clients explaining each category…. In case it’s not super obvious.

But….. The idea is, do an honest assessment of these categories.

If they score low in  a lot of areas, their relationship is not strong enough for a “familial” pack structure.

They are in a “forced” pack setting and will need structure to not just not get into trouble but to DEVELOP the kind of relationship that makes that structure unnecessary.

If the dog (or handler) scores low in an area, use a modality (from above) to help shore up that area.

Like…. If communication is bad: Work on “Obedience Training for Team Building”.

If the connection is bad: Work on “Tether Training for Relationship.

Etc……

When they score higher, the structure is reduced. When a team has high scores throughout, they will need less structure and naturally fall into the “familial” side of things.

If a dog is scoring low on most of them, or is dangerous….. They get “Lockdown”. That’s ALL the modalities at once.

But, rather than “guess” when it’s time to reduce….. You have a litmus test. Each modality will affect different aspects. When they score well, that modality gets dropped.

Yeah…. If you have a pack of hard dogs, you may never get to full freedom. You may always have to use some structure strategies (hence the Milan “always” type of rules).

Or…. If you have some monster dog that is unable to fully connect. You may always have to have some structure.

I’m not stupid. I get it.

But….. If you can formulate a plan……

You may be able to get closer than you would’ve without one.

Anyway……

That’s my .02$

This is all a working theory! Just thought I’d share in case it helps, or gets someone’s wheels turning.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Actually…. You Should Treat Your Dog Like Your Kid.

Kind of really sick of the argument that you shouldn’t treat your dog like your kid.

Maybe you should.

Look, I know what they mean. I’m not stupid. I don’t advocate “babying” your dog. I think the infantilization of dogs (and human kids…. don’t get me started) is a HUGE problem.

But it’s not a problem because you’re treating them like a HUMAN. It’s because you’re treating them like a BABY.

If you reared your dog EXACTLY like you reared your kid….. your dog would be awesome.

The problem isn’t the anthropomorphism…… It’s the fact that you never pick the correct “age”.

Some people treat their dogs like infants, and never allow them the ability to develop to their potential. These dogs have no autonomy. No dignity. They never are allowed to develop self control. Or real relationship. They are accessories to their people. They are animated dollies for your entertainment. And that is ruining dogs, dog owners lives, and making trainers rich.

Others, expect their dog to come out of the box a fully formed adult human with fur. They expect them to understand the human world and our expectations. They assume they have all the same cognitive abilities as a person. A guy told me the other day that his dog chewed up his work shoes because he’s resentful of his job and how much time it takes. He seriously thinks the dog was making a statement, AND trying to stop him from going. Like….. If dad has no work shoes….. Dad can’t go to work. WTF?

Look….. The problem isn’t that people treat their dogs like humans. It’s treating them like an “age” they don’t deserve.

When your kid is a baby you manage their every move. They have cribs (crates) and supervision. You don’t allow them to make choices, because they don’t have the development to make good choices.

Cool….. pups and new dogs should get that treatment.

Then as they grow and mature, and learn…… You give them more freedoms. And, responsibilities. You TEACH them HOW to make choices….. And then you EXPECT them to make those choices correctly. The better at making choices they get…. The more freedom they get. And, the more responsibility they get.

You RAISE them.

You raise them to their potential.

If you lucked out and you get a kid that has the potential to be a brain surgeon….. They will have a ton of freedom (and the responsibility that comes with it).

If your kid is a total dipshit….. They may end up living in your basement. They may need a little more direction in life. And that’s OK.

But you give every kid the CHANCE to develop!

A mentor told me “You’re not done training your dog till you can trust them AT LIBERTY!”.

That means you’re not done till you’ve raised them to be as independent and responsible as they have the potential to be!

I realize dogs aren’t people. And their cognition, and whatever can’t ever reach that of a fully formed adult human.

They will always need more guidance than a brain surgeon.

BUT…… If you’re still treating your dog like an infant or puppy….. You’re doing them a disservice.

So to ME…..

Dogs are not to be treated “less than” human adults because they are “dogs”. I am not a “speciest”.

They should be treated differently because their capacity is different. But we should insist that they reach their full potential, AND THEN HELP THEM REACH IT.

We shouldn’t infantilize them.

You don’t put your 13 year old in a stroller and goo goo talk them. You don’t rock your 14 year old and coo to them as they throw a fit in the store cause you won’t buy them the twinkies.

Why isn’t it just as weird to see people doing that to adult dogs?

I’m not suggesting the cold, hard “dogs are beneath us” attitude. I want parents to hug and be affectionate with their Harvard grads. You deeply love your adult children no? You just raised them, and have expectations.

Maybe you SHOULD raise your dog like you do you kids.

Maybe dogs would be better off.

Or…… maybe you shouldn’t have dogs, or kids.

That would work too.

Advanced Socialization Seminar: Saco Maine!

Finish Forward Dogs presents…

Pack to Basics™ Advanced Socialization Solutions
with Chad Mackin!

When: Saturday April 26 & Sunday April 27, 2014

Where: 30 Spring Hill Rd. Saco, ME. 04072

Contact: Shannan Nutting, Jay Jack, and Amanda Buckner
info@finishforwarddogs.com
207-251-2296

Time: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (Both days, may run slightly longer.)

Fee: $349 per person/dog

*All spaces are on a first-come-first-serve basis, and space is limited.

A system that builds dogs’ social skills to balance their lives…

The key to Pack To Basics is to use the dogs’ naturally strong social behavior to reduce stress and fear; build confidence and language skills, allowing for many common behavior problems to slip away. This is an approach like none other! No punishment and no traditional training is needed to radically improve a dog’s behavior in and out of the home.

Dog aggression? Reduced or resolved in a couple of hours in many cases.

Rambunctiousness? Dogs quickly learn to moderate their own behavior.

Excess energy? Drain your dog of the frustration that causes destructive chewing, anxiety and much more.

Pack to Basics is a comprehensive approach to canine socialization, specifically geared towards dogs with known socialization issues. It includes everything from the initial evaluation to pre-training dogs before they can enter the social arena and preparing the questionable dogs to safely enter the socialization classes.

Pack to Basics is an advanced socialization process that focuses on the dogs that are typically excluded from doggie daycares and other socialization venues. Because of this fact, Pack to Basics offers us an opportunity to help dogs that otherwise might not be able to ever run with other dogs.

Our Pack to Basics classes are revolutionary in their approach and in their results. By allowing dogs with difficulties getting along with other dogs to interact with the right kinds of dogs, they learn not merely to control their aggressive behavior, but to actually enjoy getting along with other dogs.

The two day Pack to Basics workshop is a fun and informative workshop designed to enable dog trainers to share the benefits of Pack to Basics socialization with their clients and their dogs.

Pack to Basics is a unique system for socializing dogs who otherwise might not be allowed to socialize in dog parks and doggie daycares because of anti-social tendencies. We have seen amazing results in hundreds of dogs who have been labeled dog aggressive or dangerous by other dog professionals.

Included in your Pack To Basics Workshop:
• The causes of aggression, the number one reason dogs fight, and how to quickly stop a dog fight. • How to recognize true dog aggression versus bad manners and poor social skills.
• How to evaluate dogs, and their owners prior to the class.
• How to prepare dogs and clients who need some work before socializing.
• How to safely run a class, and how to recognize trouble brewing before it becomes trouble. • When to let things go and when to step in, as well as how to safely step in.

We use a combination of videos, live demonstrations, active socialization sessions, and discussion to reach all students. While the workshop is designed for dog professionals, many dog owners have attended these workshops over the years and all have learned a lot and had a great time. Running Pack to Basics classes is the most valuable thing I offer my clients and it allows me to quickly solve problems other trainers take months or even years to solve.

What is Pack to Basics?
Pack to Basics is the best answer to the socialization question. It is more than merely letting the dogs run together. It begins with proper evaluation of the dog, continues through pre-training dogs who aren’t ready to socialize off leash, and finally it ends with safely socializing dogs who are ready. Workshop attendees can expect two informative days about dog aggression, canine body language, canine socialization. Each day will include lecture, practical work, and video presentations. Every workshop is different because the dogs at each workshop will be different.

Who should attend P2B workshops?
P2B workshops are open to any adults who want to attend. While the workshops are geared for professionals, there is usually one or more dog owner attending who just wants to understand their dog better. The feedback from them is always positive. The program avoids a lot of jargon and instead relies on plain English to communicate ideas so people of all backgrounds can usually follow. However, the material is best-suited for those with dog experience.

Are you a dog trainer?
Learn how to cure your clients problems quicker than ever before possible in a way that will be fun for your owners and their dogs. Bring clients back over, and over again into your business by offering occasional social classes. Your services will be so unique that you should expect more referral business than ever before.

Own or work at a Doggy Daycare?
Learn how to evaluate dogs to determine who is safe to play and who is not. You’ll immediately benefit as you avoid damage to your clients’ dogs. By offering a solution for problematic dogs, you’ll turn unacceptable dogs into your customers…and those people will bring their friends. Also, bring your key staff members. Help them learn dog handling and dog safety rules for dogs at play. Keep your staff and your investment safer.

Are you a pet sitter or dog walker?
Know what to look for when socializing dogs together in your environment or theirs. Make progress with dog behaviors that the average sitter or walker will never understand. You’ll become the “go to” professional in your location.

Can I bring a dog?
Please do! While the workshop could be done without any dogs (we have enough videos to make up the difference) there is a real benefit to having dogs there for practical demonstrations and practice. Any kind of dog will be useful. Some dogs are not suitable for socialization sessions, but they are valuable for the workshop nonetheless because their evaluations are the most important. However, all dogs should be crate trained, attendees will need to provide their own crate.

Can I see video of what this all looks like?
You can see a video at www.packtobasics.com. The focus of the video is a dog named Ringo who was in danger of being euthanized by Southeast Texas Lab Rescue because of his aggressive behavior towards other dogs. After a little less than two weeks we shot the video of Ringo running with a group of other dogs in an 2,000 square foot room.

Who is teaching the workshop?
Chad Mackin will be teaching the workshop. Chad has been training dogs professionally since March of 1993. He developed Pack to Basics after being introduced to Large Field Socialization by Dick Russell. Chad immediately recognized the value in what was happening and set about finding a way to make it work in smaller spaces. Chad brought all his years of experience with difficult and aggressive dogs to the problem and over time Chad developed the program presented in workshops today. Chad is a former President of The International Association of Canine Professionals, as well as the current Director of Training for A+ Dog Obedience in Webster, TX. He has presented on Pack To Basics at the IACP Conference in Hutto TX, and at National K-9 school for dog trainers, as well as private facilities across the US and in Canada.
Please see his website for more information: www.PacktoBasics.com You can also join his on-line community at: www.facebook.com/Pack-to-Basics and www.twitter.com/PackToBasics

Will I receive a Certificate of Attendance?

A Certificate of Attendance will be provided!

When: Saturday April 26th & Sunday April 27th, 2014 Where: 30 Spring Hill Rd., Saco, ME 04072
Time: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (Both days, may run slightly longer.)
Fee: $349 per person/dog

To Register – Mail Check & April2014 – Socialization – Maine to:
Finish Forward Dogs Inc.
30 Spring Hill Rd.
ME 04072

For more information, please contact Jay Jack:

Email: 3badbullies@gmail.com

Phone: (207) 712-5955

7 Mistakes You’re Making In Behavior Modification

I found a really cool article on Sacramento Dog Behavior on the 7 common mistakes people make in their Behavior Modification work. It’s really interesting. Check it out:

7 Mistakes You’re Making In Behavior Modification

YOU’RE TOO CLOSE

Are you afraid of spiders? Me too. But I’m not running around and screaming because of the freakishly large spiders in South America. Why? Because they’re too far away to present a threat to me.

Distance affects reactivity. The closer you get to something you fear, the greater your level of stress. Once the stress reaches a certain level, the brain tells us to react in some way that increases our chance of survival, which can include avoidance…or aggression. The other thing the brain tells us is to stop wasting energy on non-essential functions in that moment. Like eating. Or thinking.

If your dog is exhibiting any type of avoidance or aggression in the presence of a dog, person, or other trigger, you are too close (early warning sign – your normally polite dog starts painfully ripping the treats from your hand). Anything you attempt at this level is only going to amount to temporary suppression of behavior, which is not the same as changing the underlying emotion behind the behavior.

Behavior modification happens at a distance the dog is aware of the trigger but not showing any negative reaction, often referred to as under-threshold. If your dog reacts, MOVE. Get her out of the situation and to a distance that she can give you a behavior you can reward.

YOU’RE TOO LATE

So, you don’t like clickers because they seem gimmicky, and you don’t want to say “Yes!” because it sounds silly. Frankly, I don’t care what sound you use, but if you’re going to be effective, you MUST have great timing. You will never have great timing with just the treat in your pocket.

The point of a clicker (or “yes!” or a click of your tongue, or whatever) is that you have a unique sound that marks the moment of your dog’s brilliance. That sound has been consistently paired with rewards so that the moment your dog hears it, the reward centers of the brain start churning out dopamine, which feels good. So, even if you are caught digging around in the pocket of your jeans for the treat, you’ve still captured the behavior the instant it happened, increasing the chance that your dog will do it again next time.

Why not just use “good dog/boy/girl?” Well, because it’s slower but, more importantly, you probably don’t give your dog a food reward after saying it, so it doesn’t have the association needed to have that feel good effect. Worse, if you say “Good boy” before patting your dog on the head, which he hates, you could be using a marker that has a bad association.

Things can happen quickly with a reactive dog and if you don’t instantly capture that brilliant moment your dog looks at you the moment he spots a new dog, you’re going to end up rewarding the wrong thing.

Read More….

Meditation For Dogs?

Impulse control is one of the most common problems with “problematic dogs”.  They see the squirrel/postman/dog/bike, and they are gone. You do not exist to them anymore.

And, the typical training responses are:

A- Correct them big enough so they will listen

B-  If you get a high enough value treat, they would listen.

C- If they “respected” you, they would listen.

I’m sure there are more, but, you get the point.

Here are the problems with those.

They work. In the short term, they totally work.But they cost you in different ways.

A- You can correct the shit out of a dog and get it off of something. But….. Unless you have the hardest of the hard dogs, it going to damage the relationship. Never mind that it can damage the dog. But, you see this with old school trainers. Their dogs are obedient as hell, and totally under control. But, their squinting like they’re looking into a spotlight. Flattened dog. Not my idea of a good relationship.

B- You can put a handful of treats in the dogs face and “magnetically” draw them away from whatever got them nuts. Totally works. But you have to have higher value treats than the “distraction”. And you have to have them all the time. And your dog is excited by the food, and so you end up with this hyper, fat, stressed out dog. Not to mention the stressed out parents! There is a very familiar look on their face as the get to the bottom of the life saving bag of cheese.

C- If you live with the dog skillfully in your home. They wait for their food. They yield you space. They listen to you INSIDE. But….. OUTSIDE…… They’re a monster. I don’t think the problem is “respect”. If they didn’t respect you IN the house….. Maybe that argument would have legs. But, I see TONS of people who have angels in the house, and a devil on the streets. Those dogs (generally) don’t lack “respect” they lack impulse control. So, the “respect” camp will say “Rules, Boundaries, and “Limitations”. Obedience to correct behavior. And it sorta works. If they’re “downing” they aren’t chasing. But the problem comes with how you keep them doing these things when they get REALLY excited. And now we’re back to the bigger “Carrots and Sticks” issue of the above A, and B.

Look, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use food, or corrections. I use both. But you should use them to TEACH….. Not to “manage”. And that’s a HUGE difference.

Nice. Sounds good. So what.

Now that everyone is mad at me……

I’ll tell you what I do.

I teach my dogs to meditate.

Ok, that sounds like hippy shit….. But it’s kind of true.

The “Place” command is meditation for dogs.

The place command, is asking your dog to lay in a bed (or whatever) and stay there until you release them. But, it really goes much deeper than that. For them to be ABLE to stay in their spot, they have to have some self control. They have to be able to stay calm, even through temptations. Now, that is good for your ability to manage them. But, honestly, it’s really just good for them to have that kind of emotional control. Dogs are cute wound up, and playing…. But…. For their own sanity, and health, they really should be ABLE to bring it down for a bit. A long “stay” is a great way to develop those skills. They end up working the same kind of skills as people when we meditate. They learn to relax into this spot, and stop fighting the urge to get up. They learn to have a thought enter their head and try to steal their attention, and let it go without having it break them. They learn to center themselves, and allow distractions to come and then go. No shit, it is meditation for dogs.

Now, I chose “Place” and not a “Down” because I’m way more concerned with geographic location, and emotional state than a particular position. The “Place” command allows them to stand up. Stretch. Circle around. Whatever. Just stay on the bed, and stay cool. Now, they don’t have to stay there forever. But, should be able to stay there for at least 30 min. Then when they can manage that, you go to novel places or add other distractions!

Yes, you food and corrections to shape this skill, but the point is to get to as little food and corrections as possible. Ideally, I want the relationship (Social +R and -P if you want to get fancy) to be the motivator.

The whole point of this isn’t to have the “Place” as a management tool. That’s just a cool side effect.

The point is to help the dog literally increase their ability to SELF REGULATE. It is just like meditation for people.

And, just like meditation for people the benefits will show in areas off the Place/Meditation mats….

That improved impulse control can solve a ton of issues. From separation anxiety, to different types of reactivity.

It allows the dog to be able to display their respect for you, and listen to you ask them to ignore the squirrel/postman/dog/bike.

So,  teach your pup, the long “place”. Understand what it’s for.

Teach your dog to meditate.

Hell, you could learn how and do it with them.

Probably wouldn’t kill you to learn to relax a little yourself!

The Only Rehabilitation Philosophy You’ll Ever Need

From the Pack To Basics Facebook page:

There is lot of talk about dog rehabilitation these days. We used to just call it dog training, but now we have a fancier word for it; makes it sound more important, difficult and complex I suppose. Nothing wrong with that. But in the end, no matter what methods you are using the approach is ultimately the same. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself positive based, or balanced. It doesn’t matter if you use clickers or ecollars. If you speak of “extinction” or “punishment” or even “dominance” if your rehab is to work in the long term you have to follow this process (whether you know that’s what you are doing or not). It’s simple (though not always easy) and if you succeed, your rehab will also succeed. If you fail, then ultimately, the rehab will too.

I call it The Golden Road to Rehabilitation and it goes like this: Let the old path become overgrown and difficult to navigate while making the new (preferred) path easier and more accessible.

This may sound trite at first, but this simple expression contains a complex and far-reaching truth. As you will see, we are not merely dealing with things on behavioral level. This approach actually approaches rehabilitation on a physiological level.

This Golden Road requires that we deal with two powerful motivating factors. Most behavior modification approaches focus on the fact that most beings will consistently seek out the path of least resistance. But there is one significant exception to that principle which can throw a serious wrench in that approach. That is when we are dealing with habitual behavior. We will often cling to habits that are inefficient and create more stress and chaos because, well, that’s the nature of habits. Habits become ingrained physiologically in a specific part of our brain and become somewhat involuntary. For example, people will often reach for a light switch in a room and flip it a few times even if they know that the bulb is burnt out. Or in another situation, stand outside an elevator and see how many people press the button when it is already lit. So we cannot rely on simply creating an easier path to the desired goal when the problem is habitual.

This is why the first component of the Golden Road is “Let the old path become overgrown.” You see, this “path” is not merely a metaphor. I am speaking of neurological pathways. As behaviors are reinforced and practiced they change the physical characteristics of the brain. So when we are changing habits we are re-organizing the brain. By denying the use of specific neural pathways we literally make it more difficult to perform the undesired behavior. When I say to let the path become overgrown this is what I mean. We stop traffic down those neural pathways (as much as we can) in order to diminish their usability.

There are a number of ways we can do this, but the consistent thread must be that the dog (at the very least) can no longer engage in the unwanted behavior. That may mean we anything from simply taking away the opportunity, to interrupting each attempt to the application of an appropriate aversive. Whatever the situation calls for and whatever you, as a trainer/handler are comfortable with.

Rarely are aversives necessary in this process, and strong aversives even less so. This is especially true if the first path you steer the dog away from is the path of adrenaline and instability. I point this out because it was solving the adrenaline paradigm that forced me to realize that the two-fold approach is the most effective way to get the job done. The adrenaline pattern isn’t strictly a behavior issue, nor is it an entirely voluntary process for the dog, and it is almost always habitual by the time the dog gets to see me. So we are dealing with a strong, largely involuntary habit that is not about a specific behavior but about a state of mind. To successfully and consistently deal with this issue, requires a good understanding of the Golden Road (if only an intuitive one). As I started to really get into this process the details became more clear and my intuitive understanding of the give and take of these two goals grew. But it wasn’t until I was reading a book about behavior on a neurological level that an intellectual understanding became more clear.

I used to say behavior modification was all about changing habits, “The first thing you have to do to stop smoking is to stop lighting cigarettes. Until you do that, you haven’t begun to quit. And the moment you start lighting them, you’ve stopped quitting.” This approach served me well for years. And I helped a number of dogs and dog owners by simply getting their dogs out of the old habit. The problem with that is that habits take time to break. It worked, but it required a lot of persistent management from my clients. A few moments of lapsed attention could set them back weeks because the dog had no internal motivation to change and plenty of motivation (habit) to revert to the old behavior.

So while the first step is to weaken the power of habitual behavior, making it easier for the dog to choose an easier path, simply weakening the habit will not finish the job in many cases. We need to add another process.

This is where”Do this instead” comes into play. We teach the dog an easier path to gain what he wants. This is a valuable tool, but on it’s own, it can’t always break a habit. Without the first part, it may not do anything at all.

Regardless of how hard we try to slow traffic down those neural pathways or deny the intended reward if we don’t build that new path, we may never get rid of the old habit. Consider the habit of looking at your watch to check the time. I haven’t worn a watch in years, but I still find myself looking at my wrist from time to time especially if I am wearing a wrist band of some sort. This is because habits are not always diminished when the reward is diminished or removed. However, I have a new habit that is more prevalent. I search my pockets for my phone. This is a much more complicated ritual than looking at my wrist, and if both produced equal results looking at my wrist would be superior by far. But the the former doesn’t produce the desired result so it has stopped being the default. However, if I didn’t have the phone, I would likely still be looking at my wrist every time I wanted to know the time.

In this case, we are adjusting the the neural pathways in the brain through consistent use. We are making the desired behavior not merely more desirable, but physiologically easier to perform.

As you can see, the combination of these two valuable principles creates a situation that will ultimately result in the dog choosing a different set of behaviors when faced with old triggers.

The dynamics of the process will vary from dog to dog, case to case, and trainer to trainer, but these two goals are at the heart of all successful rehabilitation regardless of the method or approach used, and regardless of whether the rehabilitator understands them on more than an intuitive level. With a full understanding of the principles of the Golden Road, and the resolve to succeed, there are few problems that are unsolvable.