'Not only is punishment risky, but it also fails to teach the dog an acceptable alternate behaviour. The dog does not learn what to do the next time he is in the same situation. He only learns to fear the situation.' Emma Parsons, Click to Calm p73

Saturday, 3 September 2011

What makes a good handler?

Just like children, dogs need rules, boundaries and limitations.

A good handler must balance discipline and affection, for leaning too far in either direction can have undesirable consequences.

The dog owner who corrects every inappropriate behaviour is just as 'good' an owner as the one who gives their dog everything and anything. The former may deal with misbehaviour by punishing it; and the latter may cope with the same behaviour by bribing the dog to behave.

A truly good handler is set apart from the aforementioned primarily by being proactive, not reactive. They don't wait for their dog to give 'incorrect' behaviour: they manage the situation so that it is unlikely the dog will even offer that unwanted behaviour. They challenge their dog's body and mind, and give their dog the opportunity to seize control of their life, and make the correct choices. They give their dog appropriate outlets for instinctive, often self-reinforcing behaviour; behaviours that may clash with the human expectation of what is or is not correct. They know when to step back and give their dog more choices, and when to step forward and guide their dog gently on to the correct choice, so that the pattern of behaviour is better established.

Nobody is perfect, but a good handler is god in their dog's eyes.

A dog owned by a good handler doesn't need to worry about offering behaviours, because undesirable behaviour that does occur is dealt with in a consistent and fair manner; and the dog doesn't lack the respect for their handler that comes with the owner yielding to their dog's every demands. The good handler's dog knows self control, and has coping mechanisms to deal with unwanted situations from having a history of interacting with a wide variety of unusual events and occurences.

The good handler's dog works for two reasons: to please their handler, and to earn their paycheck.

Many 'traditional' trainers seem to forget that dogs, just like people, won't work infinitely for social approval. The traditional trainer's dog doesn't just work to please their handler, despite what they may think, but from a desire to avoid punishment. And at the other end of the scale, the dog owned by the person who bribes and yields to it works not to please their owner, but for their paycheck alone, which they get no matter how correctly or incorrectly they perform.

A lot of people consider themselves to be good dog owners--but are they, really? It is hard to step back and look objectively at yourself and your performance as a handler. People are as attached to their methods for training dogs as they are for training children, and a perceived slight on their methods is likely to be met with outrage. It's hard to accept that something you believe might be wrong; and even harder to think about why, exactly, you believe something to be true.

In order to become a good handler, you have to be willing to modify your own behaviour. You have to truly want to change, to know that owe it to yourself and to your dog to become the best handler that you can be, so that you and your dog can develop and grow together. No person and no relationship is perfect, but the relationship between a good handler and their dog is as near to perfection as it will ever get.


Sara said...

"Willing to modify your own behavior"....that says a lot. People have a lot of trouble reflecting upon themselves, but it can make a huge difference.

Ci Da said...

Good post. It's also important to see your ability as a trainer reflected in your dog's behaviour. If the dog is misbehaving it is the result of a mistake of the handler, not the dog.

Winnie said...

Wise words.

Love and licks, Winnie