Avoiding superficial behavior change

imageBack in July, I realized my workload and upcoming seminar commitments were taking a toll on my anxiety and health. So, I committed to doing yoga every day. Four months after making this commitment, I’ve realized the hardest classes for me are no longer the ones at the”advanced” level, but the “beginner” paced ones. Though paced for a novice, they consistently leave me working hardest and sweating the most. The slower pace requires me to concentrate on every muscle and every movement. Instead of straining my neck and limbs to superficially crank my body into a pose, I have to go inside and use my deeper, stronger muscles.

Recently, one of my class teachers said: “If it seems simple, work deeper.”

There’s a lot to be applied to dog training in this sentiment, particularly with anxious and fearful dogs. It’s easy to gloss over the simple stuff and push ahead to the advanced, “flashy” things.  But in doing that, the training remains at surface level and fails to work deeper for long-lasting behavior change.

Lures, eye contact, focus, and hand targeting seem simple, but to many dogs whose nervous systems are stressed and bodies are primed for fear, they require a lot of work. If we push dogs too quickly into more complex behaviors if get impatient, we’ll get stuck in the superficial – like cranking neck and shoulder muscles to power into an advanced yoga pose before the body is ready.

If we’re working with a dog and starting with foundations seems too simple and boring, we need to work deeper. Have we thought of all parameters? Have we proofed the behavior fully? Is the dog consenting to the training and actively, happily engaged in the learning process? And, perhaps most importantly, are we training behaviors that are relevant and maintainable for the human client?

If it seems simple, work deeper. By working deeper, we’ll create more effective, more humane training.

– Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com. To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog.