Dog News

Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun

by Leslie Fisher

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That blonde bomber Bridget, aka Bridgey surely knows all about fun, as pictured in one of her favorite activities. Really, she is living proof that dogs just wanna have fun and lives life to the fullest.  In fact, you can hum the title to the tune of Cyndi Lauper: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, which as I recall was a favorite song of mine way back in 1981 (not to date myself at all). Her enthusiasm is boundless and unbridled.  No sticks on her agenda: rather, entire trees are favorite targets. Her zest for life never fails to amuse me. With the appearance this week of the blonde bomber, you have met my trio of Look What I Can Do labs: Doobie, Talley, and Bridgey.

Somehow with the latter, I have managed to channel all this unbridled enthusiasm into a relatively well behaved dog, with a necessarily high degree of obedience as a classroom assistant dog. All of her training has been using positive reinforcement with a dash of negative punishment. An example of the latter: turning and walking AWAY from the holy grail, the river, in response to her rather strong early days efforts of trying to drag me there (she knows what she wants).

The action of turning and walking away from the river, in response to an undesired behavior,  removes for Bridget the possibility of  being reinforced by that which is desired. Now if she does as I desire (does not pull)  and thus gains access to the water (what she wants most in life)  it’s a great example of premack.  Really, this all boils  down to…you guessed it, dogs just wanna have fun! You could say,  dogs choose behaviors that work for dogs (and I say this often).

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Clever humans use that which motivates the dog as reinforcement. Of course only the dog can really say what is reinforcing to the dog. It has always been pretty clear to me that Bridgey finds water, any water, extremely reinforcing.  Personally, I feel that dog training goes awry when dogs are learning behavior to avoid punishment. Positive punishment, as in a quadrant of operant conditioning, goes like this:  undesired behavior (pulling on leash) = punishment added (leash/choke chain correction) to decrease likelihood of the undesired behavior. Or suppose a dog moves away from the side of his human = jerk on the leash and choke chain. Refer to respected Burch & Bailey:How Dogs Learn, for a thorough discussion on the science of operant conditioning, as it relates to dog training

In terms of punishment, dogs communicate through their body language if they are having a great time or just merely trudging along on leash. As I like to say dog body language never lies. I used to see one dog in particular at a town park, walking along by his owner, looking straight ahead, never a glance to the left or right, with no acknowledgment of life going on around him. Not even an ear twitch. You could set a metronome to the monotonous plodding of his measured steps.

Learning to walk on a loose leash is like death to a dog anyways, walking at the annoyingly slow (and to dogs exceedingly abnormal) pace of a human, and in the direction HUMANS want to go in. Bridgey and I came to an understanding long ago about the rivers and ponds; she can always gain access for a measure of the behavior that I desire. Also, she is free to walk ahead of me to sniff and explore, when I indicate that she is “free.” When I need her at my side, and I often to ask her to heel for random distances to practice, she is right where I need her to be.

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Rally Advanced Accomplishments

We have competed in AKC Rally, and she has her Advanced title, which is all off leash.  On a walk, she is alive, vibrant, curious and interacting with myself, looking to me for direction, looking for what might be next. This is the dog I want, not the dog dully plodding along.

Remember, dogs just wanna have fun! John Bradshaw has written a new book, Dog Sense, challenging the tired old and outdated talk of dominance in dogs; many do feel that a dog walking in front is dominant behavior. Not wishing to stir up semantics, I personally feel, plain and simple, this is  just behavior, a dog being a dog, inclined to explore and sniff. If we are clever, we benevolently control access to that wonderful world.

Part of my fun is watching my dog have fun. Playing games and interacting along the way. Being alive. Not just a dully plodding creature at the other end of the leash who has been corrected to the point of never daring to put a foot wrong, showing through body language that there is no fun involved. Who has learned that dogs cannot have fun. At least not on leash. Dogs just wanna have fun; remember, we clever beings can effectively utilize these life motivators for effective and enjoyable training. Bridgey says so!

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Born For Fun

Until next time, Leslie and the labbies : Bridgey, Talley and Doobie, wishing you well from Cecil County MD. Stay tuned on Fridays for more training “tails” and life with labbies.