Trust goes both ways
I’m not saying that our dog is trained, but I am training her. Or she’s training me. Some training is happening.
Lilly, AKA Beast Mode, was eating furniture and stealing food out of children’s mouths so I finally started this MasterClass by Brandon McMillan. It’s been months and she’s still ratchet, but I think we both feel better. Neither of us is trained yet, but at least we’re not chasing each other around the garden (as much).
Instead, two or three times a day I just go over simple commands with her. Sit, down, stay, no, come, off. The dog still doesn’t listen for shit when there’s food on the table, so it’s not like I command her. So what’s the point?
What McMillan talks about is building trust, not dominance. And he’s very clear that this is a relationship. It’s always different, and it can really take time. McMillan himself has taken years to earn dogs trust. This immediately made me relax and start to see training not as fixing a dog now but living with them for life. Hence I no longer look at training as her learning commands. Instead, I look at it as both of us learning trust. And it does have some results.
Now I can sometimes get her to drop whatever she stole by calmly telling her down and walking up to her to take it away. If I was yelling or hitting her this would be impossible, but she knows that I generally treat her and never beat her. We have that trust. She doesn’t always listen, but no one in this family does.
That’s the power of training beyond the session. When you need to command the dog you’ve already been working with her for months, maybe even a few times that day. Before I was only using commands in negative situations, but now we have dozens of positive interactions everyday. Like any relationship, we have credit in the love bank. That’s trust.
Like any relationship, however, there’s no guarantees. To be honest I’d say that commands rarely work. But we’re getting there. The most important thing I learned from McMillan is that it’s not really about commands at all. What you’re really reinforcing is the relationship between you two.
What McMillan teaches zero negative reinforcement, so no punishment. While I think you can train dogs this way (I’m just going by, like, Call Of The Wild), I think it’s exhausting for everyone involved, and also wrong.
My father-in-law subscribes to the “one kanna” school of dog training, dominating the fellow. This actually works when he’s around, but when he’s not the dog is literally off the chain. He’s got a Bull Mastiff that still thinks he’s a puppy. Sometimes he chases my kids around to play and it’s the equivalent of an adult being chased by a lion.
The benefit of positive reinforcement is that A) it’s proven to work and B) it develops some sort of internal compass in the dog. The dog is thinking about how to work with you, not work around you. They act because it’s good for them, not because we’ll do something bad to them.
I also do not want to be mean to dogs. The more I think about it, the fact that we ‘own’ these creatures and that they have no rights just seems completely wrong. In Sri Lanka a few people just keep them in cages outside their houses like an alarm bell. It makes my heart hurt to just write that. Sorry.
Anyways, treats. McMillan’s conditioning is basically giving them a shit-ton of treats three times a day. Lilly is both cunning and greedy AF and loves it. I used to think this was a bit much but everybody in this family is always eating so I guess it’s fine.
The basic point here is that we’re using a positive thing (treats) to build a relationship. She understands that this relationship is good, not that she is bad. I simply don’t think a dog can process guilt (insomuch as humans can). First off, if you catch her five minutes after, she has no idea what we’re referring to. Second, what is she supposed to do with this information?
If our goal was to have her be penitent and do nothing, we shouldn’t have gotten a dog, we should’ve gotten a painting. I think the reason we have a dog is to have a relationship, and to enjoy that relationship. Treats give us a way to build that, and then inshallah the non-destruction follows.
With treats we’re not disciplining when things go wrong, we’re doing it calmly when things are fine. She associates our voice with things being good, not things being bad. With something going in her jaws, not being taken out. And then when she does go ratchet, that’s not the only time I’m talking to her that day. We’ve already talked two or three times, and it’s been a treat.
I’m running out of words here and I honestly don’t know the implication for human beings. What I am learning is that taking time reduces crime. The trust is better than guilt. And that treats are better than tirades. But most importantly, I’m learning to give up.
As I’ve told you above, our dog is still delinquent. She still runs off with stuff, she still licks plates when I’m loading the dishwasher, she still listens about as much as any teenager. However, we at least have a relationship, largely because I let stuff go.
Trust goes two ways, and I’m getting trained to trust the training. I trust that she’ll eventually understand me (‘don’t eat our food’) and she knows that I’m trying to understand her (‘I want to eat food!’). This is not an uniquely dog thing. In the first years of marriage, many of our fights were about food sharing. None of us are above bribery with treats.
What I am learning about humans is patience above all. That sometimes the most control lies in giving up, because then at least you’re controlling yourself. Previously I would lose my shit and be disappointed in Lilly, or trying to fix her all the time. It was just stressful. Now, even though she’s only 20% ‘better’, I’m 100% more chill.
That’s the effect of training on me. They say there’s no bad dogs, only bad owners, and I’m not sure about that. Lilly is definitely a bad dog. But in many ways Beast Mode is making me a better person, and it’s only cost us a few thousand dollars worth of furniture. Am I a much better person? Lol no, I also remain delinquent. But, slowly, this dog is training me.