Thursday, November 15, 2012

Inside of a Dog, it's too Dark to Read

I'm reading Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz and it's just great. Refreshingly, it's a book of conclusions based on facts.

Rightheaded thinking from "Inside of a Dog":

"We and our dogs come closer to being a benign gang than a pack: a gang of two (or three or four or more).We are a family. We share habits, preferences, homes; we sleep together and rise together; we walk the same routes and stop to greet the same dogs. If we are a gang, we are a merrily navel-gazing gang, worshiping nothing but the maintenance of our gang itself. Our gang works by sharing fundamental premises of behavior. For instance, we agree to rules of conduct in our home. I agree with my family that under no circumstances is urination on the living room rug allowed. This is a tacit agreement, happily. A dog has to be taught this premise for habitation; no dog knows about the value of rugs. In fact, rugs might provide a nice feeling underfoot for some bladder release.

Trainers who espouse the pack metaphor extract the "hierarchy" component and ignore the social context from which it emerges. (They further ignore that we still have a lot to learn about wolf behavior in the wild, given the difficulty of following these animals closely.) A wolfcentric trainer may call the humans the pack leaders responsible for discipline and forcing submission by others. These trainers teach by punishing the dog after discovery of, say, the inevitable peed-upon rug. The punishment can be a yell, forcing the dog down, a sharp word or a jerk of the collar. Bringing the dog to the scene of the crime to enact the punishment is common - and is an especially misguided tactic.  

This approach is farther from what we know of the reality of wolf packs and closer to the timeworn fiction of the animal kingdom with humans at the pinnacle, exerting dominion over the rest. Wolves seem to learn from each other, not by punishing each other but by observing each other. Dog, too, are keen observers--of our reactions. Instead of a punishment happening to them, they'll learn best if you let them discover for themselves which behaviors are rewarded and which lead to naught.Your relationship with your dog is defined by what happens in those undesired moments -- as when you retun home to a puddle of urine on the floor. Punishing the dog for his misbehavior--the deed having been done maybe hours before--with dominance tactics is a quick way to make your relationship about bullying.If your trainer punishes the dog, the problem may temporarily abate, but the only relationship created is one between your trainer and your dog.The result will be a dog who becomes extra sensitive and possibly fearful, but not one who understands what you mean to impart.Instead, le the dog use his observation skills. Undesired behavior gets no attention, no food; nothing that the dog wants from you. Good behavior gets it all.That's an integral part of how a young child learns how to be a person. And that's how the dog-human gang coheres into a family." 

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