Buddha was an adult when we adopted him. He wasn’t fully house-trained and had no notion of using a crate. He was very agreeable around both people and dogs, but there was always an undercurrent of independence and, to use that word again, aloofness to him. Any physical affection was brief and on his terms and when I first starting working on training with him the joke was “He knows he’s going to get dinner at 5 either way.”
He was still a great dog. He was very well behaved once he got the hang of things (he was definitely an "outside" dog before coming to us.) Buddha has always exhibited wonderful interpersonal skills with other dogs. He is also very calm in busy situations, which makes great as a "demo dog" in classes and "neutral" dog for training exercises. This is what I needed when I got him and where his name comes from. This dog has Buddha nature.
But when we got home he tended to head to one of the beds and just hang out there. He was a bit of a loner.
Then last year I decided to attend the Dog Trainer Professional program at Karen Pryor Academy. This is a pretty intense course that spans several months, with a lot of both online and hands-on training work. I was attracted by the focus on hands-on training, “getting animals to do stuff with no force or coercion at all” is how I put it to one of my friends when I enrolled. (However I ended up learning a lot more than I expected. But that’s a future post.)
When you enroll in the course you have to enroll with a dog. Throughout the course there are training exercises both at home and in the classroom, and then in order to graduate you need to be able to complete a pretty difficult training exercise with your dog. (Again they’ll be a post on this in the future.) I of course had 2 choices: Caffeine or Buddha.
Facebook friends may remember this status a while back:
Caffeine is a very easy to train dog. Part of this is due to her temperament, and part is likely that we brought her home from a very savvy rescue at 9 weeks that had already started training her. I decided to take the challenge and use Buddha for the class.
We graduated a couple of weeks ago. The final training exercise was a bit harrowing (mostly due to me and recovery from shoulder surgery 8 weeks before the final class) but we did it. I also realized during that weekend that I had a different dog.
He’s not just “better trained,” whatever that means. He’s more connected to me and to people in general. His relationship with me and with the rest of the world is different.
About a week before the final classes Buddha and I attended Clicker Expo together. Clicker Expo has “labs” (no pun intended) in which you can work with your dog. I naturally decided to bring Buddha. He has always done better than Caffeine in settings like that and since I would be working with him the following weekend to graduate my class, it was a chance to work with him in different environments and maybe learn a few things that we could apply to class.
A friend that I used to work with at St. Hubert’s also attended the conference and said “I can’t believe Buddha! He’s a different dog.” This came as a bit if a surprise to me.
So I took stock of the new things Buddha has been doing lately.
- When I get home from work at night Buddha runs to me with a toy so we can play.
- When I wake up in the morning Buddha greets me. If I head right to the shower, he’s waiting in the hall when I finish.
- If I get ready to leave the house, he waits at the door, as if he is ready to go with me.
- If I am working at home I will get a visit at least every half hour for a back scratch or pet. He’ll also sleep on the bed closest to me.
- If I am in the living room the dogs “play chess” to see who can sit with me.
- The classes were far enough away from home that I had t travel and stay at a friend’s home overnight. The first couple of weekends Buddha slept in an open crate. By the third weekend he was in bed with me.
All of these changes are outside of the context of training. Naturally he’s better at training now, and the differences between him and Caffeine are more of a running gag than reality. But look at that list. Is he doing these things because he expects to get some treats? Of course not. He’s doing them because working together has created a stronger relationship.
Karen Pryor Academy talks about how training with positive reinforcement builds relationships. To be honest I was a little skeptical at first. Obviously training with positive reinforcement is more kind and more pleasant for everyone involved than the alternatives. But does this translate to a deeper relationship "off the field?"
Training done right is a shared experience. Shared experiences build relationships. Get to work!