Enough people commented on the first “Environmental Cues” blog post that I’d like to revisit it with a few thoughts.
Each of us is an individual with specific goals for our dogs. Our dogs, in turn, have different innate tendencies to consider when formulating our training ideas. We make decisions about our dogs and our training that fit in with our entire life situation. I know that there are some people who are trying to use my blog to train their dogs, and I think it’s great if I might be able to help someone in that way. But keep in mind that your dog is your dog, not one of mine. You must adapt everything that I might do to your situation.
I know from experience that one thing I do very well is create handler focus. If you hand me a rock, I will work hard to have a handler focused rock. It’s what I do. It’s what I love.
What I am not good at….helping dogs feel comfortable in the world.
With those points in mind, the plan I have for Lyra is to differentiate work spaces from exploration spaces. I want her to explore, because I have learned what happens when a dog is too handler focused. To understand where I’m coming from, see Raika’s blog post at: https://denisefenzi.com/category/raika/. I believe if I had properly socialized Raika as a puppy – to LOOK a the environment – the issues I had with her would not have developed. I worked Raika everywhere, all the time. My mistake. To avoid that, I am actively encouraging Lyra to look at the world and to engage with it – 100% and on her terms. And since I don’t enjoy that, my husband has been given that assignment. He likes walking dogs:). When she goes out with my family, she is not out of control, but she is not asked to work. She acts like a normal puppy.
For my training purposes, I also need her to be able to work in public and around distractions. Fortunately, “dog working places” are pretty obvious to both dogs and handlers. Lots of dogs, ring gates, buildings, training equipment, treats and toys, my demeanor and focus, etc. When Lyra encounters a place that meets this description, I want her to work. The sooner she learns to recognize a working space, the easier it will be for me to help her generalize her work. I do not want to fight with environmental issues (other people and dogs) when I am in a place where she does not need to engage these options.
So I am teaching her that there are two types of environments; those where we work (handler focused) and those where we exist (environmentally focused). Right now, my husband has done a much better job than I have, so she’s too environmentally focused. I am starting to work on that.
Long term, this differentiation will become blurred. If she is like my adult dogs (and I suspect she will be), I will turn her into a workaholic. When that happens, the rules will change. Anyone can play with her or feed her pretty much anytime, because I will be her priority. She will choose to work when I ask.
But Lyra is not an adult; she is a puppy who is just learning how to navigate this world of competition obedience and family pet. Structure will allow her to succeed. One day I’ll realize that the structure doesnt matter anymore, and then the rules will change.
Until then, others dogs and people may not interact with her in working spaces, and I’ll leave her to enjoy her socialization in non working spaces without expecting anything in return.
What should YOU do with your dog? I don’t know. If you were my student, I’d spend a good deal of time getting to know you; understanding your life situation, expectations, goals and tolerances. Then we’d come up with training exercises and a socialization program that made sense. As long as you are not hurting another person or hurting your dog, then there are tons of reasonable options, each with possible consequences, both positive and negative.
And of course, I can always change my mind.