Should you add corrections to training in order to teach a dog “resilience?”
The argument goes like this:
“Adding corrections in life training helps your dog learn how to handle stress. If the dog doesn’t learn how to handle the stress of even mild corrections, then when something stressful happens in life they won’t be able to recover.”
And for a competition dog:
“By adding corrections in training, your dog will be better able to tolerate the stress of a show and a competition ring”
Go ahead and define the word “correction” however it makes sense to you because that is not relevant to this post. This post is only about whether we need to consciously teach stress resilience as a generic skill by adding handler induced corrections. Let’s start with the second point:
Here’s an example of ring stress: A competition dog will eventually have to accept the stress and pressure of a judge in the ring. The judge will be directing the handlers activities and may be quite close to the working team. For the stand for exam, that person will even touch the dog.
I agree 100% that these realities are stressful for many dogs. To compete effectively we need our dog to be able to accept that person, and to experience minimal (or no) stress at this competition reality. Better yet, we want the dog to welcome it!
Let’s look at the two ways we could try and make that acceptance happen:
- Add corrections in training so that the dog learns to recover from stress. Now go to a dog show and the dog experiences the stress of a judge in the ring – the dog (hopefully) generalizes that the corrections/stress they experienced in training are no different than the stress or discomfort they are experiencing with that judge, so they recover and move on. or,
- Add a judge to your training. Introduce the person at a specific distance – enough that the dog is aware and then remove the stress and reward the dog with a chance to work or with a cookie – depending on the dog’s stage of training.
If you want to teach a dog to handle the stress of the dog show reality, wouldn’t it make more sense to address the SPECIFIC stressors of the dog show, rather than going for a generic concept like “teach stress resilience?” We know what those dog shows stressors are, so make a plan!
The second option targets the specific issue, and if you really believe in the need for generic “teaching stress resilience,” then it does that as well. So why would you ever use #1 as a training strategy? It’s too generic and it adds no specific advantage. It also leaves a lot to chance.
Job done. No need for the human to add any corrections at all. And indeed, there is a good reason not to.
I want to be the good guy! I am the one that takes the dog away from the pressure! I am the one that provides support and works to make my dog believe he is a superstar; always succeeding! I am the one the dog can count on to REMOVE pressure – not to add to it! And by the time my dog gets to the show, I want him to actively welcome the pressure of the judge because he has been trained that it is nothing – look and dismiss. Move on to the work.
It all comes back to “conditioned emotional response.”
You want your dog to likes you. A lot! To count on you as the source of interesting activities. At any given time your dog may not remember why they like you- the specific cookies that you handed over, games that you played and adventures that you navigated. But your dog knows that they like you and feel good in your company. You’re on the same team.
The last thing I want to do is be the person associated with “adding stress” to my dog’s life! I’m the advocate! And when more severe stress happens, I want to be the one who removes them from those situations! I want my dog to look to me for support when they need help, because experience has taught the dog that I will support them or modify the situation to make them stronger.
Ok, so now let’s go back to the first point; that humans have to add corrections in general life training so that their dogs learn to recover when unexpected things happen that are outside everyone’s control.
Do I need to teach my dog stress recovery “for life,” so that when they stub their toe they don’t have a meltdown?
Life provides the stress for life. Training only takes place for approximately 15 minutes a day – you can count on the fact that the other 23 hours and 45 minutes will provide plenty of experiences for the dog to experience the normal cycle of “That hurt!! ” or “That was scary!” and the end result of “I’m ok!”
You’re just not that important to the normal development of your dog, assuming you expose your dog to the realities of life through socialization. Obviously if your dog never leaves your home, no one ever comes in, and you’ve padded the walls, then yeah, it’s going to get weird when you try and walk out the door. But its probably easier to just walk the dog out the door – socialize them – and let the world happen, than trying to arrange corrections to teach your dog to accept life.
So far, all of my dogs have stubbed their toes at some point or another, and I have yet to see any of them opt out of life or refuse to leave the house after the event. Indeed, my various dogs have broken bones, dislocated body parts, and gotten stitched up after deep cuts occurred – none of which I actually arranged for – and they moved on. They did not become freaks.
Normal good training and socialization should expose your dog to the various realities of dog shows including reduced reinforcement, the pressure of dogs, people and things, travel, etc. You can predict those realities and train for them. And since you are consciously training rather than approaching “resilience” in a haphazard fashion, you can control the scenarios. So if you really believe that stress needs to be “taught” by a trainer, then this does the ticket just fine. No need for corrections at all to get there.
Build your relationship through advocacy. THAT is what your dog needs from you. You don’t need to teach stress resilience. Stress is an unpleasant feeling that is rooted in the emotion of fear. I no more need to teach my dog how to handle fear and stress thanI need to teach my dog to be “happy”. All I need to do is think about which one I want associated with me.
On another note:
Congratulations to Katie O. of Louisville, KY for winning a free class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy for the February 1st term! We look forwards to seeing her there. We’d love to see even more new faces, so feel free to take a look at the schedule and get enrolled. Classes start TODAY. Class Schedule