Space in an urban environment, I know I am asking for a lot here. But I wanted to post today as a plea to the public to be mindful of other dog owners/walkers and to take a few extra moments to give some space if needed.
So, you have a friendly dog that loves all other dogs? That is SO GREAT! Seriously, I am very happy for you. However, that doesn't mean that other dogs want to say hi to your dog. It isn't anything personal, but some dogs just need more space. And living in close quarters (like we do here in Liberty Village, Toronto) can be quite stressful to our dogs - so I wanted to urge you all to take an extra few moments on your walks to be mindful of this, and to check your surroundings and slow down if you see a stressed out dog.
Just because you see a dog walker with a group, don't assume the dogs are good with new & unfamiliar dogs
I get it, you see a group of dogs so you would assume it would be no big deal for your dog to say hi. But it is VERY hard to keep a group of 3/4/5/6 dogs under control when a new dog comes and says hi. Even if all 6 are super friendly, we get tangling & dogs jumping over or on each other and it can turn into too much excitement too fast. On the opposite end, just because a dog is walking with other dogs doesn't mean that a new dog wouldn't scare them. The dogs know that when they are with me, the friends I have are safe. But outsiders are scary! Again, this is NOTHING personal. Trust me I would love to chat with you and your dog if it was just me (or 1 or 2 friendly dogs) but this is THEIR walk, so if I ever try to cross the street to get some space - know it isn't personal... and I would very much appreciate the extra patience if it takes us a second!
A personal example:
My Sadie lady, she is doing INCREDIBLE with her reactivity training - but there are some situations where we get trapped, and if people could just slow down and give us space the reactivity could be reduced.
We were in an elevator, and got to the ground floor and wanted to exit. There was a dog with their handler waiting to enter and go up. I said "sorry my dog is a little reactive". I could have been more bold and asked for space, for sure. But as I was trying to exit this handler came into the elevator (??) why!?!?! Why couldn't this person just take literally 10 extra seconds maximum to take a few steps back and let us pass with the space we needed. Instead Sadie loses her mind and is barking/snapping/REALLY UPSET. It leaves me feeling like a failure, put Sadie in a scary situation, and put that dog in a potentially dangerous situation. This all could have been avoided with 3 or 4 steps backwards, and just taking a few extra mindful moments.
If Someone Asks for Space - Don't Be Offended
Like I said, I am so happy for you that you have a non reactive dog. However, I do, and I want to be her advocate. Please make this easy for me by not arguing back when I say that Sadie doesn't want to say hi, or when I jog to gain distance or cross the street. So many people think I am a bitch because of this, but I am the opposite. I care so much about my baby's wellbeing that I am willing to be perceived like this. But I really wish this wasn't the case. I wish people would see Sadie tense up, see me trying to get some space, and think "oh this dog needs space! I will allow them that 10 seconds MAX that they need to get to a safe space for this dog." Why can't this be the norm? The only people who ever seem to give space are those who also have reactive dogs (and I want to hug the crap out of them), or some great dog walkers (not all dog walkers are created equal). But I regress, this is NOT personal. Please do not take it as such. Just move on!
Let's Slow Down as a Society
I am guilty of this, always feeling like I need to finish whatever I am doing quickly. But one of the best things that my dogs have taught me is to slow down and to live in the moment. When walking your dogs, don't think about all the work you need to do or how you need to get dinner started, just enjoy the walk WITH your dog. Watch your surroundings, slow down and really just take it all in. And if you see a dog who doesn't want to say hi, take a second & let them pass or just pause for the 30 seconds they need to add some space.
It is a Dog's World after all, let's give them the time and the space they deserve.
As I was brainstorming topics to blog about, I realized I should probably do a post on the basics. For me, the idea of positive reinforcement is so ingrained in my mind & shapes all I do, but I understand that for most non-dog trainers - this probably is not the case. So today's post is all about what positive reinforcement is, how it works, and why we use it. In layman's terms.
When people think of positive reinforcement, they think of treats and clickers.. which isn't WRONG per se - but it is all about how we use these things. We are going to talk about the theory of positive reinforcement in this post, and I will follow up with another post about CLICKERS next!
This is the only nerd part I will include here. Let's define positive reinforcement in terms of psychology and training. People over complicate this, and confuse the terms to mean things they don't mean.
Positive = ADD
Reinforcement = INCREASE BEHAVIOUR
So positive reinforcement training is ADDING something that will increase the likelihood of the behaviour occurring. We are adding something that the dog finds valuable, in order to make them want to do the behaviour more. Treats are not the only thing to use in positive reinforcement training, it is whatever your dog finds valuable. Maybe their favourite thing in the world is playing tug! What is valuable is determined by our dogs.
We as learners (whether dogs or humans or fish) learn through punishment and reinforcement. Using positive reinforcement is the least frustrating, aversive, forceful & intrusive method of learning - which is why we like to use it. Instead of punishing the learner for something we do not like, we instead are paying them for what we do like! When you get paid for something, you're more likely to do it again. And there aren't side effects like fear or intimidation. You have a willing participant, you become a team with your dog when you use positive reinforcement.
Positive Reinforcement is NOT bribing your dog! NO MA'AM!
My goodness, the amount I hear this from people who don't use positive reinforcement... "you're just bribing the dogs!" ummm, pause. Full stop. Let's back it right up. That just ain't true. We are PAYING our dogs. In the elevator, if the dogs I am walking can sit and look at me (or just stand near me and look at me) imma pay them for that. Maybe I have to cue them to get their attention with a kissy noise to get them understanding what I want, but once they are looking I PAY! Once they realize they are getting paid for giving attention, they sure as heck are going to be checking in with me way more often. No kissy noises needed. They are like "oh sick an elevator, hey kelsey WHAT UP!!!!" and I'm like "oh hey dog, HERE U GO U EARNED THIS!"
If I were to BRIBE the dog, what would happen is that when we get in an elevator I use a treat by their nose to get them to look at me. What happens when I don't lure them with a treat? I don't get attention. No bribe? No behaviour. But when we pay the dog, they begin offering the behaviour in hopes of it being paid! If we pay for the behaviour until the point where the behaviour is being willingly offered, we can now pay on a variable schedule. Maybe they only get paid every second or third elevator ride! Does the behaviour go away? Nope! Because the dog knows that the behaviour MIGHT get paid, and because it MIGHT get paid - it is worth it to offer it up! (think of humans and scratch tickets... we know we won't win every time, but we might win SOMETIMES, and because we might win SOMETIMES it is enough for us to keep buying those little tickets).
In summary: you don't get offered behaviour if you use a bribe. Positive reinforcement, when done right, can have the treats faded away. Believe that or not! As long as you don't fade the treats too soon, and you continue to reinforce periodically - you can do it. If you have a dog who is dependant on treats, you probably did it wrong!
How would you rather learn?
At the end of the day, this is really why positive reinforcement is the way to go for me. I respond much better to being praised for something I did right, rather than being punished for doing something wrong.
Say I wanted to learn how to play the piano. If we were using positive punishment - I would be playing, and every WRONG note I did I would get a pinch in the arm. Over time, I may make less mistakes - but I am also now not really enjoying my time playing piano, and I am SCARED of my teacher. I didn't learn how to do something right, I learned how NOT to do something wrong.
If we were using positive reinforcement, we could start very slow - every few notes I got right I got a "yes kelsey! sounds great!". When I do something wrong, I don't get any praise - but just encouragement to try again. Overtime I am learning what gets me praise, and what doesn't. I am now trying to get more and more praise, I am learning those chords! Together, as a team, my piano teacher and I can BUILD the behaviour of playing an entire song. We take it at my pace. If it's too hard and I am making too many "mistakes", my teacher breaks it down & reinforces for my small successes. This makes me excited, I am a happy participant and I am learning what works! I would way rather learn this way.
For my fellow dog trainers and walkers out there - I know this is a very simplified explanation of positive reinforcement. But this post isn't for you ;) I want positive reinforcement to be understood by everyone! My tips for you humans - think about your day to day life, notice those moments of reinforcement (and punishment) and see how prevalent it is. Think about how you would rather learn. And then take that to your dog!
Let me know if you have any questions, but have fun! And become a team with your doggo. Pay them for the behaviours you like!
Stay tuned for our next post on CLICKERS!
Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone. Hope you are having fun, and staying safe! Today's blog post is inspired by this Irish day - let's talk about some green foods that are safe for our dogs.
Here are some of our favourite greens:
Green foods to AVOID:
When adding something new into our pup's diets - do so in SMALL increments. All dogs react to foods differently, and not all these green foods will suit your dog. Also, if your dog has known medical conditions (or you just want to be proactive) please consult your vet before trying anything new. These are all meant to supplement the dog's diet, and not replace their regular nutrition.
Have fun, give your dog a little green treat today if you have any!