11 February

Breakthrough: Training Fate. It’s Usually About Us, Not Them….

by Jon Katz

Almost every day, either me or Maria wills  shout at Fate, at least once, it’s hard to get her to come out of the pasture, she loves being with the sheep. We’ve trained Fate (thoughtlessly) to be what I call a “multiple-choice” dog, that is we shout at her several times to “come” or “come home,” or “that’ll do,” so we’ve reinforced the idea – for YEARS – to pick whichever one she chooses and ignore the others.

This is the only time I ever hear Maria shout at any animal, and she doesn’t like it. I do it too. So last week, Maria called my Wednesday radio show “Talking To Animals” as she does every week now, and we decided to take on this problem we have with Fate – she is otherwise an obedient, responsive and very loving dog.

I said I believe it is usually the human’s problem, not the dogs. I said I didn’t think Maria really cared all that much about how Fate comes out the pasture, Maria has an artist’s head, and when she is doing one thing, she is thinking about the next dozen or so things she intends to do.

She doesn’t really stop to focus on one thing for too long, and neither do I. Shouting at dogs is always an alarm sign, it means the human is messing up and failing to train.

Most of the training shows and manuals teach people that they can’t do the things the trainers do. So they feel dumb and give up training themselves. Maria thought teaching Fate to come promptly out of the pasture was something Cesar Millan could do, but that she probably couldn’t do. She was wrong.

There is never only one way to train a dog. We are all different. We live in different environments with different people. The dogs are different. How could one training approach benefit everyone? On my show, I play Sherlock Holmes, I gather all the information I can and then offer a reasoned and individualistic solution. Everyone can’t do what I can do on a farm working at home, I can’t do everything all of the people reading this can do.

The  Training Guru idea discourages us from thinking through out own training problems, and that’s why so many dogs get yelled at and even returned to shelters and breeders.

We had actually trained Fate to disobey and given her a number of ways to do it. You don’t need to shout at Fate, she is as bright and sensitive a dog as I’ve ever met. She is always listening. But we make it very difficult for even the brightest dogs to know what we are telling them.

I’ve said a million times that if you want a better dog, you have to be a better human, and this is what we decided to do.

I suggested that Maria get close to Fate and not shout commands at her from a distance that she can’t make Fate carry out. So instead of shouting at Fate from the pasture gate or from the back porch, she simply walks up alongside Fate and says softly, “Fate, come, let’s go,” and Fate just gets up and comes along, as requested. It’s all natural and soft and impressive.

Maria is being her natural self – she never yells at Fate – and Fate gets the message and is happy to succeed, rather than fail. If you watch this video, Fate just walks out of the pasture with Maria, who calls it a “miracle.”

But there are lots of lessons in this miracle. Come and see.

The moral of the story: Don’t shout at your dog. Talk to them, and listen to them.

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